From Iceland — Police Use Force, Pepper Spray On Pro-Palestine Protesters

Police Use Force, Pepper Spray On Pro-Palestine Protesters

Published May 31, 2024

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The Reykjavík Metropolitan Police broke up a peaceful anti-war and pro-Palestinian protest on May 31 with the unprecedented use of physical force and pepper spray.

Individuals had been protesting outside the government offices on Skuggasund in central Reykjavík since 8:30 this morning as ministers convened inside. According to Salvör (Salka) Gullbrá Þórarinsdóttir, a spokesperson for the Iceland-Palestine Association, roughly 100 protesters were on location, chanting and making noise to call on the government to condemn Israel’s ongoing military siege of Gaza, which the International Court of Justice has called a plausible genocide.

“We were just protesting like we’ve done many times outside the government offices,” Salka told the Grapevine. “When they brought a car around to get one of the ministers, then a few people lay down in front of the car to block its way and just seconds after that [the police] pulled out pepper spray and started spraying not only on people that are laying down, but also on people standing around.”

Between 20 and 30 people were exposed to pepper spray.

“There was no time to even take in what they said,” Salka said. “So they said it happened because people were not obeying orders. But those orders were very hard to even have time to follow.”

The Grapevine contacted the capital area police for comment and were told the only people who could offer comment were two officers on the scene this morning, Kristján Helgi Þráinsson and Arnar Rúnar Marteinsson (pictured above pepper-spraying one protester while detaining another). Neither were available for comment prior to publication. Arnar Rúnar told the national broadcaster, RÚV, that force was used when the protesters failed to obey police orders.

“Before, like during the 2009 protests, people have laid down in front of vehicles and what has happened is the police carry you away,” Salka explained, referencing the 2009 Pots and Pans protests that were widely attended in the wake of Iceland’s financial collapse. “That’s what was expected to happen — that they will carry you off because you’re passively laying in front of the car and they want you to not be in the car. But this time, they just decided to spray instead, which was like a very violent escalation on their part.”

Bystanders called an ambulance to the scene to administer treatment to those pepper-sprayed. Three people were taken to hospital for treatment. No arrests were made. “There was nothing to be arrested for,” Salka clarified. “There was no vandalism, no one was throwing paint or eggs or different things, that has happened in other protests. It was nothing like that. It was about not obeying orders of the police, but nobody had any time to take in those orders or react to them.”

All eyes on Rafah

The difference between today’s protest and the protests organised by the Iceland-Palestine Association or others over the course of Israel’s eight-month war against Hamas is the attendance numbers. In light of the news coming out of Rafah over the past weeks, more Icelanders have been compelled to use their voice to spur more action from their government.

Israel herded much of the Gaza population south to Rafah, a city bordering Egypt in southern Gaza, before invading the area on May 6. On May 26, after advising Palestinian civilians to leave Rafah, which Israel no longer deemed a “safe” area, Israeli airstrikes targeted an area where displaced people were sheltering in tents, which then caught fire. At least 40 Palestinians — most women and children — were burned alive. Israel followed that assault by striking another encampment for displaced people on May 27.

At least 36,096 Palestinians have been killed and another 81,136 have been wounded since Israel began its siege on Gaza in early October.

“We’re not going to change anything except for the fact that now we are aware that the police seem to have decided to take on more violence against our protests and we just have to be aware have that but we just have to make sure that it’s clear from our side that we are people protesting the government’s inaction on Gaza — that’s our goal,” Salka said.

“We don’t want the discussion in general to become about the police violence because that’s been happening in other places,” Salka said. “It’s very sad that this is happening and [the police] are escalating in this way, because that just takes the focus away from where it is meant to be — on Israel and Gaza — and we don’t like we don’t want that.”


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