Sweden and Palestine: from religious pilgrimage to recognition

Published 3 December 2014 in:

Boy buying peanuts outside the Swedish School in Jerusalem early 20th century. Foto: Lewis Larsson

It is not every day that Sweden recognizes a new state. The last couple of weeks have thus been a very special time to be representing Sweden here in Jerusalem.

For us at the Consulate General, the day our Government took the formal decision to recognize the State of Palestine was a hectic one. Even if news reporters here have been busy reporting on the tragic escalation of violence in the city, and indeed the eve and day of the recognition were particularly violent, we suspected the Swedish decision would draw some attention. It did.

It was important to reach out locally and communicate the reasons behind the Swedish decision, not to have it hijacked by people wanting to spin their own interpretations. We wanted to emphasize in particular that the decision is not about taking sides in the conflict, but to benefit a process leading to peace for all here. After a long day of interviews and a press briefing for local news outlets, we think the message was heard.

The Palestinian response was overwhelming. The Swedish decision was rightly understood as a victory for those within the Palestinian society that still, 20 years after the Oslo accords, believe in a path to self-determination through peaceful means only. This is a group that has not been spoilt with good news lately, with no peace talks ongoing and not much indicating that new talks will start any time soon.

Since the recognition, we have been visited by peace groups from Israel and from Palestine wanting to express their support for the decision. We have received many greetings from peace activist seeing the Swedish move as a ray of light in the darkness that is their shrinking hope for a two state solution. We have been deeply touched by some messages – and for that Swedish flag that someone hung over a shawarma stand in Gaza, someone who now sees that Palestinian diplomatic efforts to reach peace can bear fruit.

So, communicating the reasons for Swedish recognition has been keeping us rather busy lately. But Sweden has been active in Jerusalem for over 100 years before the recognition. It all started with the Swedes from Nås in Dalarna, who in the late 1800s were convinced by a charismatic priest to leave for Jerusalem in order to greet Jesus whose return to earth they thought was imminent. This pilgrimage led to Sweden establishing an official presence here in Jerusalem to protect the interest of Swedes in the city.

Since then much has happened in Jerusalem – and with Swedish-Palestinian relations. Today, we have thousands of Swedes with Palestinian roots, including well known artists such as Eric Saade. As many as 30 people work at the Swedish Consulate General in Jerusalem. We will continue to share here some snapshots of what we do.