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Norway in the Middle East

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Responding to the Israeli assault on the Gaza Strip, Norwegian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide said: ‘I am deeply concerned about the high number of casualties in Gaza, the suffering of the civilian population and the widespread destruction, especially of infrastructure that is vital to ensure a rapid and effective medical response’. Aside from this measured, diplomatic rhetoric, what has the Scandinavian nation, known for its involvement in peace initiatives, been doing?

Humanitarian Response

Eriksen Søreide announced that humanitarian aid to the Palestinians from her government would rise by 30 million Norwegian Krone, around £2.5 million. The Foreign Minister identified Gaza’s urgent need for clean water, health services and food, as well as personal protective equipment for limiting the spread of COVID-19.

Norway has already provided NOK 71 million (around £6 million) in humanitarian support to the Palestinians in 2021, channelled through the UN and Norwegian humanitarian organisations and is considering raising this total further. ‘In particular, we will help to strengthen the protection of children and provide health care, shelter, food, water and sanitation. Norway urges the parties to take steps to ensure that humanitarian actors have safe and unimpeded access to people in need of help,’ said Ms Eriksen Søreide.

The Gaza Strip, with a population of around 2 million, the majority of whom are refugees, was enduring a humanitarian crisis before the latest Israeli assault. 53 % were living in poverty and more than 1.3 million experiencing food shortages. And that was before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘The military attacks on targets in Gaza are having a severe impact on civilians. We condemn all attacks on civilians. All parties to conflict have an obligation to protect civilians from the effects of hostilities,’ said Foreign Minister Eriksen Søreide.

As well as humanitarian aid, Norway also provides long-term development aid and a contribution to UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East).

Norway plays a significant role in the Liaison Committee on Coordination of International Aid to the Palestinian People at the United Nations.

Economic Response

Norway’s $1.3 trillion (US dollars) sovereign wealth fund has excluded Shapir Engineering and Industry Ltd and Mivne Real Estate KD Ltd. for their activities associated with illegal Israeli settlements on the occupied West Bank.

The companies were excluded based on advice from the Norwegian government’s Council on Ethics “due to unacceptable risk that the companies contribute to systematic violations of individuals’ rights in situations or war or conflict,” the fund said in a statement.

The sovereign wealth fund is the world’s biggest, owning around 1.5% of listed stocks globally. It is managed according to a wide range of ethical guidelines that excludes some companies from its investments based on advice from the council.

In a statement, the Council on Ethics said: “the Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been built in violation of international law and that their existence and constant expansion causes significant harm and disadvantage to the area’s Palestinian population.”

The fund announces exclusions after it divests the actual holdings. At the end of 2020, it held $1 million in stocks in Shapir Engineering and Industry and $12 million in Mivne. The call for divestment began with Palestinian civil society in 2005. Countries like Norway that have backed diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the region have also committed taxpayers’ money to repeated reconstruction efforts in the Gaza Strip and in providing humanitarian aid to the 7 million Palestinian refugees worldwide.

Gaza has been under an Israeli siege since 2007. And the Palestinian refugees have a right to return to their homeland, but the United States has effectively blocked the fulfilment of this legal right.