Wild In The Streets

It’s pretty unreal to see riots in Oslo. The sort of clash we saw here last night is the first of its kind since the early 80s. I went to a few demonstrations when I was younger, but they were peaceful protests of the show-up-and-be-counted kind. Yesterday, 500 people showed up to voice their support of Israel. Roughly 1.000 others, mostly youth of Palestinian background and radical lefties, showed up and went mental in the streets. An Israeli flag was taken from a man and burned. The protesters threw bricks and sent fireworks at police; someone even threw a molotov cocktail, though thankfully no-one were hurt. Meanwhile, a peaceful protest was held a few blocks away, a candlelit vigil for the victims of the conflict. Roughly 10.000 people showed up for that, but few reporters, if the papers are to be believed.

Reading today’s papers, the reactions are fairly predictable: One school of thinking contends that the riot is yet another sign that Islam is taking over the country and that we must fight Allah on the beaches, etc. The other side demands that Israel must withdraw from Gaza completely, that Norway must sever relations with them and that they’re nazis and it’s all their fault and there was never trouble in the Middle East before this.

The middle ground gets lost in all this. The Gaza Support council in Norway were upset, as they now feel discredited by the rioters. The vital democratic right to voice dissenting opinions and not worry about getting hurt for it also took a hit. I also read that a school class recently cancelled their visit to a synagogue in Trondheim. The pupils were so angry about what was happening in Gaza that they felt it would be best to postpone the whole thing. This saddened me, because now is the perfect time to visit a temple. Most Jews are not the Israeli government; some agree with their policies, others do not. But it seems we’re going down a dangerous road if we say that this line of reasoning is OK. After 9/11 and the London bombings, much effort was made to reach out to muslim communities. Surely Jewish communities deserve the same respect? After all, it was Jews who wrote this:

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.” (Leviticus 33-34)

I’m not going to pretend to have a very informed opinion on the conflict. I can only go by what I read in the papers, and I remember speaking to a Jewish friend in college about it, who reminded me to look at both sides. I think israel has often been to aggressive in their policies, but I also recognize that they have to be able to retaliate. Likewise, Palestinians should have a place to live, that much is obvious, and it saddens me that they are ultimately pawns in a bigger game. But then, isn’t that also true of Israel? Israeli spokespeople on CNN said they were fighting the “tyrannical regime of Hamas” – despite the fact that Hamas was democratically elected. Ironically, being an activist militant group, they have done an appalling job of running things in Gaza. Had Israel waited – and the US had had competent advisors for them – Palestinians most likely would have elected someone else all by themselves.

Anyway, we haven’t had a riot in Oslo for many years, and I’m not about to start seeing the apocalypse in this. Most countries have a good riot every now and then; in France, it’s practically a day out for the family. Windows were broken and garbage cans torched. But while damages were costly, the city was not in flames, and although 30+ were arrested, nobody were seriously hurt. I imagine that – for example – the French riot police would have been less polite.

What a way to start the new year, eh?