Thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters and delegates gathered in Rotterdam on Dutch Liberation Day yesterday to protest against Israel, drawing parallels between the Nazi occupation and Israel's occupation of the West Bank. They also protested the international embargo imposed on Hamas. On a visit to the Palestinian Authority, Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he also supported ending the boycott.
In a telephone conversation with Haaretz, organizers from the local pro-Palestinian association of PPMS explained that the timing was not coincidental. "Occupation is occupation, and murder is murder," they said.
Barred from attending himself, Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh used a satellite to call on the 4,000 attendants of the conference of Palestinians living in Europe, to press for an end to the international aid boycott imposed after his Hamas government came to power last year.
"You bear a heavy responsibility to break the boycott and help your brothers in the occupied territories," Haniyeh said in a video message played to delegates. "I would have liked to be with you in person."
Former Dutch prime minister Dries Van Agt, also a keynote speaker, voiced a similar opinion. Van Agt expressed regret over Holland's "biased" pro-Israeli stance and boycott of Hamas. "The European and Dutch boycott of Hamas is wrong and even stupid," Van Agt told the Dutch media. "We automatically pardon the occupier and sanction the occupied nation."
Van Agt even theorized that the reason for the this "slated approach" was a common feeling of guilt toward the Jewish people. "We have to realize that our actions were not particularly brave during the Second World War, and our approach to the State of Israel is a result of of our desire to compensate for this," he said.
Organizers said the protest was against the occupation of the West Bank, but the posters advertising the event advocated what could be construed as a call for the destruction of Israel, such as "Palestine free from the river to the sea," and "Stop the 60-year-long catastrophe."
Jewish groups in the Netherlands had protested the conference being held on Liberation Day, but there were no protesters outside the meeting when it began. Another Hamas representative, PA Sports Minister Basem Naim, canceled his participation after he was not allowed to disembark at Brussels' international airport. Naim was granted a visa earlier in the week by Dutch diplomats in Tel Aviv, but it was later revoked due to his links to Hamas, said Dutch Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Dadou, who called it a mistake.
The Associated Press reported yesterday that German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also criticized the embargo against the Palestinian national unity government, comprising Fatah and Hamas representatives. Yesterday, during a visit to the Palestinian Authority, Steinmeier met with senior Palestinian officials and said the world must end its boycott of the Palestinian unity government to avert a financial crisis.
Steinmeier held talks with Palestinian Finance Minister Salam Fayyad, as a small gesture after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declined to meet even with non-Hamas members of the Palestinian government during her trip to the region last month.
The government's program, while more moderate than that of its predecessor, did not meet international conditions for acceptance, including recognition of Israel and renunciation of violence.