In Photo: ‘Buy (or shop) against Occupation’– at the entrance to the “International Square”, credit: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center
Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden. The largest cultural event of the year is held each September in one of the largest exhibition spaces in town. This year the theme was ‘Freedom of Speech’. Over a period of four days, close to 100,000 people from across Sweden paid a visit to the fair.
A special part of the Göteborg Book Fair is “The International Square” – “a network of NGOs, publishers, trade unions, businesses, and agencies working with international issues and development and co-operation.” The goal is “to spread qualified information about global development issues to the many visitors – from Sweden and elsewhere. “ The Swedish international aid and development agency (SIDA) supports the International Square, among other things by paying the salary of an organizer from a private adult-education agency.
As the director of the Sderot Media Center and the Jerusalem-Discovery, I was invited by the Sweden-Israel Friendship Association (SIFA) to present my art in photography books and share my personal audio visual narrative: ‘From Rockets to Rainbows’. This was the second year that SIFA set up a booth in order to counterbalance the well-funded anti-Israel booths in “The International Square”.
Upon arrival, I set up our books of photography for display in the booth and hung up colorful posters from my photo exhibits to draw attention to the booth. On my first break, I walked around the complex to get a feel for the atmosphere of “The International Square” – and for what and who are we up against here.
There were at least seven anti-Israel booths and assemblies – such as these:
• ‘Diakonia’ – the booth across from SIFA – was run by 6-7 young adults, passionate activists, promoting books about the suffering stories of the Gazans, doing everything they could to catch the attention of young passers by to get them interested in their cause – and sign them up for “free trips to Palestine”‘. In photo- A young ‘Diakonia’ activists, catching the attention of passers- promoting books about the suffering stories of the Gazans, photo credit: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center
• Representatives from EAPPI (Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel) had a booth right next to SIFA’s. They wore green safari vests with lots of pockets on the front and EAPPI written on the back along with an all-orange version of their logo showing a peace dove and a cross. I recalled to myself how I have encountered many of them in Israel, provoking IDF troops, trying to fabricate scenes that their anarchists can document with their cameras.
• There was a small auditorium, where selected participants (including yours truly), gave presentations. Right next to it was a second-hand library / bookstore with a huge sign on top saying- ” Buy books against the Occupation”. State of the Art colorful handbags proclaiming ‘Boycott Israel’ were for sale. A donation box with pins designed for the next flotilla to Gaza was on one of the shelves.
• ‘Emmaus’ – an organization that backs projects such as the newest flotilla to Gaza – had its name on two ‘Pro-Palestinian’ booths, one of which was near the larger auditorium. The other was a Swedish-Palestinian booth selling ‘the right of return’ books.
• In the other half of the huge complex, there were powerful photography exhibits – many of them covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Of course, the focus was on one side.
In photo: A Palestinian dressed anti-Israel activist, checking out SIFA’s information and material presented in booth, credit: Noam Bedein, Sderot Media Center
It really is a coincidence that, according to Swedish integration police chief, Uffe Boström, more ISIS recruits come from Gothenburg than anywhere else in Sweden.
But perhaps there is some hope, even in Sweden:
“Last year, they were much more aggressive” – SIFA’s Jorgen Knudtzon tells me. “The ‘Pro-Palestinian’ activists were wearing their T-shirts calling out – ‘Boycott Israel’ and were scattered throughout the book-fair complex with charity boxes collecting for the next Gaza flotilla while handing out their propaganda. It even reached to a point that an activist approached our booth and told me: ‘If I had a machine gun, I would have gunned you all down’. This year was… quieter compared to last year’s book fair, although we definitely felt the tension when many of these anti-Israel activists were checking out our booth a couple times a day, picking up our information material and thumbing through the books we presented on our table.”
There are probably no cultural events outside of Sweden that are as grotesque as “The International Square” at the yearly book fair. But there are all too many events where a voice for Israel and the Jewish people is sorely needed. SIFA’s participation at the International Square already seems to be making a difference after just one year. The sponsors/organizers are becoming stricter about the ban on material attacking anyone. There were many visitors to the SIFA booth – including MPs and celebrities; SIFA’s Lotta Jansson says that perhaps some of the people running neighboring booths even felt jealous. Attendance at the speaking events was good. May SIFA be an inspiration to Pro-Israel activists everywhere in the free world.
Short CV: Noam Bedein is a photojournalist and international speaker. He directs the Sderot Media Center and The Jerusalem Discovery. www.SderotMedia.com and www.Jerusalem-Discovery.com.