For a week now, the harbours in Sweden, have been leaving the goods on ships to and from Israel untouched.
– It is a way for us dock-workers to take a stand, even if it is in a very small way, against the blockade of Gaza and for an independent, international investigation of the Israeli boarding of the Freedom Flotilla, says Erik Helgeson, the trustee of the Swedish Dockworkers Union in Gothenburg to Swedish Television.
The Israeli goods imported to Sweden are usually fruit, vegetables and wines. Already on the first day of the blockade, about ten containers were identified and left untouched until the end of blockade – today at around midnight. This nationwide action involves 1500 dock-workers, while their employers have chosen to remain neutral regarding the issue.
And it is not surprising that a city in the heart of this blockade is Gothenburg, the largest port in Scandinavia and also placed in Western Sweden which is generally leaning a bit more to the left.
For Erik Helgeson, the blockade is not so much a political stand.
– It is more of a humanitarian question. We want to stand behind the civilians in Gaza. The Palestinian civilian population must be allowed to rebuild their economy, their infrastructure and freely integrate with the rest of the world, Erik Helgeson explains.
According to the regional daily Göteborgs-Posten, the representatives of the Israeli embassy in Sweden have stated that the blockade of Israeli goods will not have any substantial effect on Israel.
Nevertheless, the response of the Swedish public towards the action could be summed up as quiet approval. The development from just a couple of years ago, when posters or signs encouraging you to boycott Israel would only be seen in second-hand shops, independent cultural centers or at political gatherings, is remarkable.
It would seem that Sweden, a country which, similarly to its most famous vehicle, is perceived as reliable and safe, now drives rather unexpectedly to the forefront of the nations labelled as “propalestinian”. And the fact that the Swedish Ship to Gaza was directly involved in the organization of the Freedom Flotilla is only a part of the explanation.
During the last year and especially during the Swedish EU-presidency, Sweden has taken a clearer stand in regards to the conflict between Israel and Palestine, resulting in a strain on its diplomatic relationship to Israel. The Swedish proposal during an EU meeting of foreign ministers to recognize East Jerusalem as capital of a future Palestinian state did nothing less than infuriate the leadership in Israel. But it started even before that. The relationship between the two states (coincidently both on the top ten list of arms exporters) has been frosty ever since the Swedish leadership refused to condemn a highly controversial article in Aftonbladet, a Swedish daily, which claimed that Israeli soldiers were stealing organs from dead Palestinians. And indoubtably, the escalation in violence (which nowdays is safe to call the attack on Gaza even in Swedish media) over year and a half ago, played a large role in this tougher approach.
Compared to the Freedom Flotilla, the diplomatic quarrels between Sweden and Israel received little attention on the global arena. But in Sweden, a slight change in the tone, a step outside of the comfort zone of neutrality, was perceived. This, combined with Sweden’s rather safe position on the other side of the globe, with no or few connections to the region, no complicated past (as the case is with for example Germany) and no real historical or cultural loyalties to any of the parties, has made it easier for Sweden to play hardball. Consequently, voicing your discontent with the naval blockade or Israel has suddenly become politically correct. Even trendy.
In this climate, it is safe to say that a week-long blockade of Israeli goods in the Swedish harbors is not the last we will see from this peaceful corner of the North. However, one of the exceptions that proves the rule is Fria Moderata Studentförbundet, a liberal conservative student association, which offered to volunteer as dock-workers for the duration of the blockade under the motto: We can load the ships!