A plume smoke erupts over the northern Gaza Strip during Israeli bombardment from southern Israel on December 27, 2023 amid continuing battles between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas. LEHTIKUVA / AFP

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After 12 weeks of indiscriminate bombardment of Gaza, the US-supported Israeli attacks on the Gaza strip and a parallel upsurge in raids on the West Bank continue. So far, the Israeli attacks have resulted in significant casualties and damage mainly to defenceless civilian residents as of December 28, 2023. In Gaza, over 21,000 Palestinians, including 8,200 children, have been killed and more than 55,000 injured.

In the West Bank, at least 313 have died. Israel's death toll stands at approximately 1,139. Infrastructure damage in Gaza includes over 313,000 residential units, 352 educational facilities, 26 hospitals, 102 ambulances, and 203 places of worship. The conflict has also claimed the lives of 73 journalists and for some their entire families, resulting in the accusations that Israel targets journalists intentionally in order to prevent them from reporting on the war crimes committed.

Every hour in Gaza, 42 bombs are dropped, 15 people, including 6 children are killed, 35 people are injured and 12 buildings are destroyed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan compared Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler, drawing parallels between the Gaza war and the genocide in Nazi Germany, on Wednesday. The rest of the western leaders, including the Finnish government and politicians have mainly remained silent.

Against the background of this tragic and barbaric ongoing assault and the silence of the western leaders, we sat down with The Palestinian Ambassador to Finland, Taissir Al Adjouri, for a conversation regarding Finland's evolving stance amidst Israeli attacks in Gaza. Ambassador Adjouri spoke about Finland's initial abstention from a UN ceasefire vote, the subsequent shift in their position, and the ongoing challenges in advocating for Palestinian rights and achieving a ceasefire in Gaza.

Helsinki Times: What kind of support has Finland provided to Palestine amid the Israeli attacks in Gaza? And do you think Finland has done enough?

Ambassador Adjouri: Looking at the current situation, I believe that the support from Finland is not sufficient. However, there has been a positive development in their stance compared to the beginning. Initially, Finland’s abstention from voting in favour of a ceasefire at the United Nations General Assembly was a let-down, contradicting their traditional policy and international human rights law. I expressed our disagreement with the Finnish foreign ministry. Nevertheless, Finland later voted for a ceasefire on December 12th, a decision more in line with their traditional policies and stance, which I appreciate.

Helsinki Times: How did you approach the Finnish government about the situation and what was their response?

Ambassador Adjouri: As part of the Arabic and Islamic groups, we conducted several meetings with Arabic, Arab, and Islamic ambassadors in Finland. We also had discussions with the Finnish foreign ministry, where we elaborated on the situation, shared our position, and requested a clear stance from Finland. The Foreign Minister made several promises regarding this matter. We seek a clear position from Finland in support of the Palestinian and Arab Islamic position at the UN, within the Nordic countries, and the EU. This includes recognising the state of Palestine and achieving a political solution. Our immediate request is for the cessation of Israeli aggression and a ceasefire to halt the massacre against our people. The Finnish government has been attentive to our appeals.

Helsinki Times: Western countries, including Finland, initially described the situation as Israel retaliating to the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack. Do you also condemn the Hamas attack?

Ambassador Adjouri: We condemn any actions that harm civilians. I cannot selectively condemn one action and not the other. In the UN, the condemnation must be impartial and against attacks on civilians. The public's memory is short; the problem did not start on October 7, but dates back to 1948. It has been 75 years of the international community overlooking the massacre of Palestinian people and the Israeli government's policy of hatred. Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu falsely equated the actions of Hamas with those of Daesh, justifying the killing and massacre, and carrying out nakba, which is condemnable. We are fundamentally against any harm to civilians from all sides. This stance is clear in the policies of the Palestinian state and government, and our President Mahmoud Abbas. However, after a week, people began to recognise the falsehoods, leading to a change in position in Europe and elsewhere.

Helsinki Times: What are your views on the stance of Western countries regarding the ongoing attack in Gaza by Israel, particularly those labelling it as self-defence?

Ambassador Adjouri: For countries calling it self-defence, I see it as a demonstration of double standards. They are overlooking the occupation of Palestine. In fact, people under occupation have the right to resist. They condemn what is happening in Ukraine and support Ukraine's resistance. When it comes to Palestine, there is no condemnation. Palestinians have the right to resist. I find this position unacceptable. If they feel guilty towards Israel and the Israelis, it should not be at the cost of Palestinians. The historical injustices against Jewish people in Europe do not justify the suffering of Palestinians.

Helsinki Times: The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) recently voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza, which contrasts the US's repeated blocking of ceasefire calls in the UN. Finland also initially voted against the ceasefire. Do you see this as hesitance or hypocrisy on the part of countries advocating for peace?

Ambassador Adjouri: It is hypocrisy. If you cannot stop a massacre and genocide against a population and give rights to a fascist state, whose ministers are condemned by the law in Israel and abroad for their fascist ideologies, then this hypocrisy is unacceptable. You cannot ask for humanitarian corridors while agreeing with the continuation of aggression.

Helsinki Times: Why, in your opinion, is Israel receiving this kind of support?

Ambassador Adjouri: Firstly, many countries have supported Israel since its inception, believing that Israel can safeguard their interests in the region. Secondly, when the United States takes a stance, others tend to follow suit. The risk lies in the military and IT exchanges, which are difficult to reconcile with talks of humanitarian law and human rights, especially when dealing with an occupying power.

Helsinki Times: Finland has finalised a €317 million deal with Israel for the David’s Sling air defence system. How do you view this deal in the context of Israel's military actions in the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian territories?

Ambassador Adjouri: I cannot view this deal independently of the larger context. As representatives of Palestine in Finland, we have met with the foreign minister, the speaker, and the foreign committee in the parliament, and plan to meet other politicians. Such trade supports Israel’s military industry, which is responsible for harming our children and women. It's not just about the deal itself, but the principle behind it. When you engage in arms trade with an occupying power, you are economically supporting that occupation.

Helsinki Times: How do you perceive the killings and blockade of electricity and water supply in Gaza in terms of international laws of war? Can Israel be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court for these actions?

Ambassador Adjouri: These actions are undoubtedly war crimes. When you deprive a population of water, electricity, and food, you are effectively deciding to kill civilians. We hope for swift action against Israel in the ICC, similar to the response against Russia. We will persist in our efforts until the Israeli state and all responsible individuals, including Netanyahu, are brought to justice. As a small country, we believe that the only protection we have are the international humanitarian law and human rights. One day, justice will be served.

Helsinki Times: Some politicians believe that these incidents in Gaza need thorough investigation before being labeled as war crimes. What is your opinion on this?

Ambassador Adjouri: I urge these politicians to open their eyes, avoid double standards, and educate themselves about the situation. These are clear war crimes, and it's unacceptable to delay action under the pretext of needing further investigation. Israel's actions are intentional and politically motivated, not accidental. When similar actions were taken by Russia in Ukraine, the EU president declared them war crimes. I fail to understand why Israel should be treated differently.

Helsinki Times: What are your thoughts on the two-state solution proposed by some countries, including Finnish politicians, for the Palestine-Israel conflict?

Ambassador Adjouri: Just this morning, I discussed this issue with the Finnish foreign ministry. Frankly, we are tired of the empty rhetoric surrounding the two-state solution. If countries truly believe in this solution, they must take practical steps towards its realisation. You cannot claim to support a two-state solution while recognising only one state and ignoring the other. It's crucial for these countries to recognise the state of Palestine. Immediate implementation of this solution is needed, along with a clear message to both parties and an international conference to discuss the model. The international community needs to take responsibility and push for an independent Palestinian state.

Helsinki Times: What kind of humanitarian aid is Palestine expecting from Finland?

Ambassador Adjouri: Finland is providing aid through the EU and the International Red Cross. They have also sent teams to the borders to evaluate the situation. However, the current level of humanitarian aid is not enough. We need more, as the aid is controlled by Israel. Pressure must be applied on Israel, as they control all aid trucks. The number of trucks has been reduced significantly, not meeting even 10% of the population's needs for food, medicines, and other essentials. Hospitals and schools have been destroyed. Therefore, we consider these actions to be war crimes and genocide.

Helsinki Times: There have been significant protests in Finland against Israel’s actions in Gaza. Do you perceive a gap between the solidarity shown by the Finnish people and even the Palestinian community here, and the Finnish government and politicians?

Ambassador Adjouri: There was a gap previously, but it is closing, as indicated by the government's changing initial position. The Finnish people's movement in solidarity with Palestine and the Palestinian families here is a positive sign. The government must maintain Finland's traditional policy of human rights and respect for international law, in line with Nordic policies. Sweden and Norway have followed this path, and Finland must also adhere to it.

Helsinki Times: Do you believe Finland can act independently of the EU on this matter?

Ambassador Adjouri: ”Yes, they can. For instance, Spain has a clear position regarding the recognition of the State of Palestine, as do Belgium and France. There is a certain level of awareness, yet sometimes these countries align with the EU's stance. We would, however, appreciate Finland's support for Israel, guiding them towards the right path.

Helsinki Times: Do you think Finland can act as a strong mediator?

Ambassador Adjouri: Definitely. President Ahtisaari set a precedent for this. Finland is capable, provided there is a willingness. Currently, there are efforts from Finland, but they haven’t yet reached the level we aspire to.

Helsinki Times: How is the Palestinian embassy collaborating with Finnish authorities on issues like human rights and international cooperation?

Ambassador Adjouri: We are engaged with Finland in various sectors. Finland supports our stance in the Human Rights Council, endorsing our resolutions and our rights within this commission. We have repeatedly encouraged Finland to engage in Item 7 discussions at the Human Rights Council. In Palestine, Finland contributes significantly, collaborating with civil societies and reinforcing the understanding of international laws."

Helsinki Times: How would you describe the current state of bilateral relations between Palestine and Finland?

Ambassador Adjouri: Our bilateral relations are strong, and our voices are heard. Recently, there was a telephonic conversation between the presidents of Finland and Palestine, focusing on the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. We are working together on these issues. We have requested their intervention regarding the ill-treatment of Palestinian prisoners. We are eager to further develop these relations. Recognising the State of Palestine is a crucial step that Finland can take, following the examples of Sweden and Iceland. This remains our primary objective. Our educational cooperation is commendable, with Finland leading educational programs in Palestine, establishing Finnish schools and a university, and providing aid to our health sector. Finland's support for NGOs in Palestine is also noteworthy.

Helsinki Times: Do you think that the Palestinian community feels confident in Finland?

Ambassador Adjouri: Yes, they seem to be quite comfortable and well-integrated. We see many Palestinians excelling as engineers, doctors, and academics in Finland. This integration has enabled them to conduct peaceful and respectful demonstrations.

Helsinki Times: What are the goals of the Palestinian embassy in Finland for the upcoming year?

Ambassador Adjouri: Our foremost goal for 2024 is the recognition of the State of Palestine by Finland. We aim to facilitate high-level visits between Finland and Palestine. We're also focusing on developing educational programs involving teachers and professors from Gaza and Palestinian universities in collaboration with Finnish institutions. This will greatly benefit Palestinians. Additionally, we are looking to enhance direct trade between Palestine and Finland. Lastly, we encourage Finnish people to increase tourism in Palestine, in partnership with Palestinian operators, for a more enriching experience with our hospitable community.

Sonali Telang - HT

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