As she loitered at the back of a public demonstration in Kafr Qaddum, west of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, Kristin was shot by Israeli soldiers. She had been leaning against the wall and playing with her phone, posing no threat to anyone and trying her best to stay away from the front line.
This was not the first time she had been shot. Just one week earlier Kristin was shot in the abdomen with a rubber-coated steel bullet after attending the same demonstration. Kristin caught the whole event on camera – from her interaction with Israeli soldiers stationed at the end of the street to the second she was hit in the stomach.
I asked Kristin whether she thought she had been shot on purpose: “You can see in the video that there is no one around us – I know that they shot me on purpose,” she replies. “I spoke to some other foreign workers down there [in Kafr Qaddum] who reckon that they [Israel] probably did it to send us a message – that they don’t care if we are foreigners or not – and that they actually regard us as inferior to Palestinians because we are there to help them.”
The video was quickly picked up by international and Norwegian media, but for Kristin, this attention was difficult to deal with. “I felt guilty that I received so much attention for being shot while the Palestinians who live there get shot and killed and there is literally nothing about it in the media,” she says.
Kristin explains that Kafr Qaddum is just “a sleepy village, the same size as my village in Norway filled with normal people, yet every Friday they are getting shot at and tear gassed. Every time I go there we used to meet up outside the little shop under a tree and would say hello to friends, have a little chat, then the soldiers would come”. She adds:
I don’t think they’ll ever experience a demonstration where they can walk more than 10 metres before Israel starts shooting at them. Sometimes you can’t even talk to people because the soldiers are already there.
Kristin was one of nine people who got shot that day, yet no one remembers their names. This selective outcry is commonplace when it comes to coverage of Palestine, as Nariman Tamimi – the mother of Ahed Tamimi, who was arrested and jailed for slapping an Israeli soldier who trespassed on her family’s land – pointed out in August. Nariman called out the international media as racist for its solidarity with Ahed, saying: “Frankly it is probably Ahed’s looks that prompted this worldwide solidarity [but] there are thousands of stories that the media needs to pay attention to and highlight all of the occupation’s crimes”.
“The occupation needs to be seen as the war crime it is and legal measures need to be taken to that effect,” she added.
It was exactly this kind of media bias that prompted Kristin to get involved with Palestinian activism. She tells me that though she “kind of knew about the Palestinian cause growing up” and “was a bit of a Palestine activist in high school,” it wasn’t until Israel’s brutal assault on the Gaza Strip in 2014 that she became more actively involved.
I was living in Norway and I was watching the national news, but at the same time reading independent publications on the internet, and I realised the reality was a long way from what the Norwegian media was publishing. The Norwegian media continuously focused on the Israeli narrative of self-defence, so I started contacting them to ask why. I think I naively thought that they were making a mistake, but then I realised that it was very much on purpose.
In the two months since she was shot, Kristin has worked to turn the media attention surrounding her experience into an opportunity to raise awareness of the situation in the occupied West Bank. In late October she met with the Norwegian Foreign Ministry to demand that it uphold its alleged commitment to protecting “human rights defenders” like those Palestinians who protest in Kafr Qaddum every week against Israeli restrictions on their freedom of movement.
In 2017 Norway put forward a resolution to the UN General Assembly stating that “all human rights and fundamental freedoms apply to all persons equally”. It also recognised “the substantial role that human rights defenders can play in supporting efforts to strengthen conflict prevention, peace and sustainable development”. Yet despite having boasted about this international commitment and contributed millions of dollars to projects around the world, on Israeli violations against Palestinians and indeed its own citizens, Norway has been suspiciously silent.
“I didn’t get much support from them and there was no apology,” Kristin explains. “First they claimed that they didn’t receive my initial email, which I sent to three different email addresses in the department. They said they had read about my trying to contact them in the Norwegian press, so I asked them why they hadn’t reached out to me about it – they didn’t seem to have an answer.”
Kristin wanted her government to demand answers from Israel as to why it shoots protesters, whether international or Palestinian, yet Norway seems to have been rendered impotent. “They said they had asked Israel for an explanation but they haven’t received one, and it seemed like that’s all they can do – they didn’t get one and don’t usually get one and so that’s it – it seems like they are content with that,” she laments.
Kristin didn’t have high hopes that Norway would take action against Israel, but the meeting was disappointing nonetheless. A similar meeting held by the Ship to Gaza team – which organised this summer’s Freedom Flotilla to break the Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip – was treated in the same vein by Norway. The flotilla was intercepted by the Israeli Navy in international waters in July and towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Several of the crew members were subjected to violence by Israeli soldiers and detained in harsh conditions, yet as Kristin tells me: “The Norwegian government told the Flotilla members that they shouldn’t have been there in the first place and in the end agreed only to check with Israel what had happened to the medical supplies that they had brought with them. Like me they weren’t very happy with their meeting.”
Since Norway, like so many European countries, is unwilling to push Israel to end its policy of shooting protesters at will and using violence against international activists, Kristin is taking the matter up with Israel. With the help of Israeli NGO Yesh Din, Kristin is filing a court case against the Israeli army to fight for criminal conviction of those who shot her. “Palestinians and Israeli activists are too scared to give witness testimony,” she explains, adding: “They are scared to speak against the IDF in public, which I completely understand. So far I managed to get two Israeli witnesses who are going to give testimony and also maybe an Icelandic woman.” Whether this will be enough to force a conviction remains to be seen.
“The Israeli government will quite happily go out and defend its soldiers in the media, but the only thing the Norwegian government has said is that they warned us about going there, so they are blaming us,” Kristin reflects. “Everyone in the occupied Palestinian territories who has been shot, they’re human rights defenders, but what are Norway and the international community doing about that? Nothing.” She hopes her efforts will be one small counter to this silence.