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Mikkel Gruner, member of the city council of Bergen, Norway, says Europe has reached a “watershed” moment for Palestinian rights

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DIMITRI LASCARIS: This is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News Network from Palermo, Sicily, where the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza is currently docked.

And I’m standing here today with Mikkel Gruner, who is a member of the city council in Bergen, Norway, the second-largest city in Norway, and he ran under the banner of the Socialist Party. Thank you for joining us, Mikkel.

MIKKEL GRUNER: Thank you so much.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: So you’ve been on the Freedom Flotilla pretty much from the beginning of the voyage. You’ve been there for weeks, you’ve done thousands of miles. How have you found the experience thus far?

MIKKEL GRUNER: Well, you know, I’m traveling as a deckhand, which is a new experience for me. I had no prior experience being at sea, so it’s been a steep learning curve, and it’s been a long journey. I was on the ship when we left Bergen, my home city, and I’m proud to have come all this way with the Al Awda.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: I understand before you departed, in your capacity as a councilor in Bergen, you brought forward a resolution relating to the importation of products from occupied territory. Could you tell us about the resolution and what happened?

MIKKEL GRUNER: Yes, there’s been a movement in Norway to make municipal and regional bans on imports from occupied territory, both in Palestine and other parts of the world like West Sahara. And it’s been on the initiative from the Confederation of Trade Unions and from the labor union movement.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And ultimately what was the outcome of this particular-.

MIKKEL GRUNER: Well, sadly, in my city the ban wasn’t, we didn’t get the vote. The Socialist Party supported the ban, and the Red Party supported the ban, and the Green Party supported the ban. But without the vote of the Labour Party it wasn’t possible. And that’s, in my opinion, that’s a great shame. Because in other cities in Norway, larger cities, the Labour Party members have been able to support the ban because their voters support the ban, and their base supports the ban.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And where do you see the strategy of a ban on the importation of products from, for example, Israel’s illegal settlements, where do you see that fitting into the larger goal of bringing about a change in the behavior of the Israeli government?

MIKKEL GRUNER: Well, in itself it’s mostly a symbolic gesture, and it shows that a city is willing to, you know, put guidelines in place to ensure that the policy of buying stuff is, you know, aligned with human rights. So that’s a symbolic gesture. But it’s also, to me it’s a larger step in the work to get a national ban going. And in the larger picture, if we get enough countries in Europe to support the ban, then we have the opportunity of making real sanctions.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And would you say that the policies of the national governments in the EU today are reflective of the sentiment on the street towards the Palestinian cause? And if not, why do you think there is this disparity?

MIKKEL GRUNER: Well, not at all, is the short answer. I think that in Ireland, we had the the Irish bill, which was a great step in the right direction. Of course, it hasn’t been passed completely, but it’s on its way. It passed in the Senate. But mostly I would say that the governments of Europe are completely out of tune with public opinion. And I have a strong feeling that in recent years there’s been a real shift in public opinion. I think we are at a watershed. And within a short span of time I think we will reach critical mass. This is a question of being on the right side of history or the wrong side of history.

And as we remember with the apartheid system in South Africa, the European governments were dragged into that boycott kicking and screaming. You know, it was only when they saw that the public support for the boycott was so strong that there was no way to avoid it. They had to listen to their own people, that they actually started acting on this. And I think that’s ultimately the way we have to go. I think sanctions are the way to, to end the illegal blockade and end the occupation.

MIKKEL GRUNER: And I understand you’re going all the way to Gaza?

MIKKEL GRUNER: Oh, I’m going as far as practically possible. I hope we will be able to deliver Al Awda as a gift to the fishermen of Gaza. I think it has a certain beauty and a certain poetry that a, an old fishing vessel that has been going all the way up in the North ice seas is being presented by the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, and a crew of mostly Norwegian sailors and Scandinavians, to the fishermen of Gaza. You know we’ve been going down the coast of Europe, and since we’re a boat, we visit the port cities. We visit countries that have a strong connection to the sea, to the ocean. There are fishing communities, other marine commerce. You have a ship wharfs, and some of these cities have offshore business.

And the connection to the ocean is so immediate. It’s something that we all understand us humans. And to think that the people of Gaza are denied this fundamental and simple thing, the access to their own waterway, it’s absurd. And it’s a great shame on the international community that we allow this to continue.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: Well, I wish you a very safe voyage, and I want to thank you for speaking to The Real News today.

MIKKEL GRUNER: Thank you so much.

DIMITRI LASCARIS: And this is Dimitri Lascaris, reporting for The Real News from Palermo, Sicily.

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Dimitri Lascaris is a lawyer that focuses on human rights and environmental law. He is the former justice critic of the Green Party of Canada and is a former board member of the Real News Network. You can follow him @dimitrilascaris and find more of his work at