Friday, 22 July 2011

Pinkham Way Waste Plant Public Meeting

A packed public meeting organised by Barnet, Enfield and Haringey Green parties at Hollickwood School close to the proposed waste processing plant, attracted over a hundred people on Thursday (21st July) last night. As recently as this Tuesday, Haringey Council ‘put on hold,’ the plan because as they say on their website, the North London Waste Authority (NWLA) has failed to provide enough detail on the proposals. A decision on planning permission for the development will now be delayed until April 2012, by which time the NWLA should have submitted a more detailed plan.

The speakers at the event were, Colin Parish, a local resident and founder of The Pinkham Way Alliance, Darren Johnson, Green party London Assembly Member, and Quentin Given, Coordinator of Tottenham and Wood Green Friends of the Earth.

Quentin said in his statement to the meeting, "the problem existed because we have too much residual waste. The government had failed to seriously address this in its recent waste review. We should be asking our local MPs, if they support this campaign, to go back to government and get a more ambitious waste reduction policy; and asking councillors to improve recycling facilities. On the development itself, he said that we should not be making fuel from waste containing plastic – in effect a fossil fuel – and we should scrutinise the application to see what its impact on traffic overall would be.”

Colin, in his statement said, “This factory, will be seventy five feet high, with a chimney almost double that size. The NWLA say that this site is an ex sewage works, but that was fifty years ago, it is now lovely woodland. The plan is for over one thousand vehicle movements a day, in and out of the plant, twenty four hours a day, and we must fight it. This is the worst traffic junction in London in the daytime, and these plans will make this situation even worse.” He also made an appeal for donations to help his group’s legal costs, which he said was the best way to stop the plan going ahead.

Darren agreed that the legal challenge was very important but said “Local residents are a force to be reckoned with, and this had had an effect on Haringey Council’s action in delaying a decision.” He went on to say, “The politics is also important, the Mayor of London can, at the end of the day, decide on whether this plant is built, and with the decision delayed until April 2012, this makes it a big issue at the Mayoral and GLA elections in May next year, which is brilliant timing. This plan is based on the low levels of recycling which we have in London, but we could be achieving over 80% recycling, like they do in many countries in Europe. If we recycled more, we wouldn’t need such large plants as are being proposed. I noticed on the way here to this meeting that the recycle boxes are tiny compared to the big grey wheelie bins. It is also unfair on the people of this area to be expected to take the waste from several boroughs.”

A lively questions and answers session followed the speeches, with general opposition to the plan from all parts of the room. The meeting resolved to continue the fight against this massive scale waste plant, which would have a devastating effect on people’s quality of life in this part of north London.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Released from Israeli jail

Well I spent yesterday trying to chill out after a rather expensive long weekend in an Israeli jail. I guess most people already heard that from the media reports - if not check out (see item; welcome-to-palestine-israel-arrests-jails-and-expels-internationals-en-route-to-bethlehem)

The plan originally was to spend a week with various Palestinian NGOs as part of a deliberate challenge to the Israelis' constant attempts to prevent people visiting the West Bank for any kind of political or cultural dialogue with Palestinian people. If people say they are Christian pilgrims or that they have come as 'innocent' tourists with a hotel booking, the border authorities will probably let them through passport control. But if you're on a human rights fact-finding tour, or a town twinning visit, let alone any kind of volunteering mission, you are very likely to waste your air fare unless you conceal the real motives for your trip. I did this twice. The first time in 1989, when this 'tourist' visited the West Bank talking to prisoners' support groups, advice centres, and so on with a group of (mainly Jewish) lawyers who later founded Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights. The second time I was a volunteer English teacher for a few weeks, after a visit to my former art teacher now living in Jordan, and again presented myself at the Allenby Bridge as a 'tourist'. The third time, July 8 2011 at about 3.45pm, I had the following interesting conversation with passport control:-

First passport official; why have you come to Israel ?
Anne: to go to Bethlehem to visit Palestinian friends.
Official; Are you going to the conference ?
Anne; What conference is that ?
Official; stand aside.
Second official; Where are you going?
Anne; Bethlehem
Second official: where will you stay and what will you do ?
Anne: I have an invitation to visit the Al Rowwad arts centre - it's a theatre, arts and educational centre,with various children’s projects. They will arrange accommodation.
Second official (indicating waiting room);go in there please .

That was enough to get me four days in jail, and as I learnt only after being put on a plane back to Luton, an 'access denied' stamp in my passport.

After an hour, there was another bigger waiting room, EXCLUSIVELY for the 40-50 people (many French) who had arrived that afternoon to join the Bethlehem trip organised by several Palestinian NGOs (see There was no further questioning at all, not like they usually do if they are seriously considering your request for an entry visa. Just waiting, until after about two hours the border police boss said he wanted to take us to a 'hotel' one by one. I instantly had a feeling that this would be more like Harmondsworth than the Hilton. Our passports were visible in a pile, each with some kind of dossier attached. But we weren't getting them back, and if we wanted to go to the toilet, it was with a police escort. Eventually 23 uniformed men, some army, entered the room and grabbed the first person to drag him out - a French guy who looked of Algerian parentage. We linked arms to protect each other and stay upright. But several people didn't and got bruised as people, hard chairs and luggage all fell about in chaos. Eventually we all filed out and were led downstairs to the toilets, hand luggage searched, patted down, chivvied out to a waiting vehicle. No explanation at all. No chance to say anything. Some people, mainly men, got handcuffed - starting with a brave Scot who shouted, as one of the soldiers got up on a desk with a video camera; 'this is all a put-up job so they can show the media WE are being violent'. Which we certainly weren't! It was all them.

The vehicle might be called the Black Hole of Ben Gurion. We sat in it from shortly after sunset -maybe 8.30 at the latest? - until well after 11. It was all metal and had been sitting in the sun with the fan off, at least 30 celsius inside. Twenty eight women in 23 hard metal seats. The men, and the last four women, were in little box-like compartments, some handcuffed - see photo on , look for 'more uk citizens to be released tonight'. After an hour, they turned the fan on intermittently, but kept turning it off as it was clearly linked to the cattle-truck battery. A bit later we banged on the doors and shouted for water. They brought 2 litres for 28 women. (We might have had the odd bottle in our hand luggage but they had taken that away.)

Dehydrated and very hungry, we finally got to the Giv'on prison after midnight. Another couple of hours of waiting with hardly any access to our hand baggage. We could see it in a corner with a guard standing over it. They brought a water urn, a box of apples and a few take-away-like containers of rice and chicken, enough for only one between 2 or 3 women. We were searched again and phones, cameras, money, belts and so forth confiscated for the prison safe. Finally to bed in cells with 6 bunks each, a stinking squat toilet cubicle and filthy floor, and lock down till the British consul arrived to see us at 9 am.

Well treated, claimed the Israeli press releases. Well if you call it that, with about 3 hours in the exercise yard over 4 days, and locked in the cells (so that we couldn't even move around the corridor)for about 16-17 hours each day. I'll grant the Israelis could teach HM Prisons (whose catering I fortunately never suffered) a thing or two about food - with raw peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, apples and yoghourt even a fussy veggie like me didn't complain. Though by 10 am Saturday, having had a few spoons of rice and two apples since landing, I was like a wolf and barely wanted to say hello to my French cellmate till I had eaten breakfast. Horrifying what jail does to life's small courtesies - I kept thinking of a certain Primo Levi novel.

The legal (or any other basis) for our detention remained a mystery. Our consul reckoned at first we would get a deportation notice, our Palestinian lawyer (working pro bono for I think the Red Crescent)said there was a right of appeal, but it rarely got anywhere. Later the story was we were 'in another dimension' as one prison official put it, or 'in transit' as the consul was told. So we didn't have the rights even of immigration detainees pending deportation - who according to the notice in the corridor, could have cellphones and money with them, and a right to a court hearing. We clamoured for permission to make one phone call, but got it only by Monday.

The men's block was incommunicado from us until 4pm Monday, when all the UK citizens met with a British consular representative. Only then did we learn from the men about three important developments:
1. On Monday morning the men had started a hunger strike, demanding an explanation for why they were detained -- though they never received an official explanation.
2. On Sunday evening they had been told they would be allowed to make phone calls on Monday morning, but then this offer was restricted to those who would eat -- i.e. break the hunger strike.
3. On Saturday afternoon a couple Israeli border officials visited the prison to offer that the over-55s could go to Bethlehem if they signed a document saying they would not approach zones where there was conflict with the Army -- e.g. Bi'lin, Silwan, Jayous, etc. After much discussion, the older men agreed to accept the travel restrictions -- if the offer was extended to all the men, regardless of age. They made that proposal to the border officials, who gave no response.

Why the age limit? It was probably a proxy for 'We do not want these young Arabs in our country on any terms', since most of the French and Belgian youths were of North African descent. By analogy, in 2009 Israeli ruled that only the under-15s and the over-50s males could go pray in Al Aqsa during Ramadhan and for a few weeks afterwards. Insidiously, age was being used as a marker for ethnicity. The border officials' offer aimed to instrumentalise the older men to isolate and stigmatise the younger ones.
On Tuesday we were locked in cells most of the time and called out in twos and threes to get ready for the airport. The Luton flight was the last - all accepted it except for four brave Welsh women who wanted to have a go at an appeal, but they never got it. They are now back - see for their story.

And a wonderful welcome at Luton from several of my friends and local Green party people who had come out at midnight to meet us. Thanks everybody!

Was it worth it ? The Palestinians who had invited us thought so. It's highlighted how impossible is the cultural and political future of a country where if you leave, you may not be allowed back in, and if you have visitors, they may be arrested. Rather like a giant prison, in fact. Activities that would support any peace process like educational and cultural exchanges, town twinning visits, aid and human rights work are all made far more difficult by these kind of restrictive immigration practices. Since the Israelis won't say if they will let you in till you get to the airport, they're not even really immigration 'rules'.

Should people feel sorry for us ? Probably the people to feel sorry for are the Palestinians themselves. When they go to jail, it's often for weeks, months or years of arbitary detention with no trial, or a perfunctory military court, and quite a few beatings attached. And all over the West Bank, there are constant attacks on unarmed civilians with tear gas, rubber and plastic bullets and sometimes live ammo, sometimes against people who throw stones but very often against people who have done nothing violent at all. Even during the time we were in jail, some horrendous things were going on; see for example

The Palestinian academic who coordinated the 8th July 'Welcome to Palestine' week, Mazyn Qumsiyeh, is sure that non-violent resistence is the key to advancing the Palestinian cause. Look at the web site, and do read his books. They will inspire you, as they did me.

Written by Anne Gray who has a blog here.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Anne Gray Returns Home After Israeli Jail Ordeal

Veteran peace and Green party activist Anne Gray , one of twelve Britons arrested and jailed at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport, Tel Aviv last Friday 8th July, was released late last night and placed on a deportation flight from Tel Aviv after spending five gruelling days of incarceration in a filthy cramped cell. Six other British activists were also aboard the flight which landed at Luton airport around midnight last night.

Ms Gray, who is well known in Haringey for her tireless community activism and campaigning as the Green Party parliamentary election candidate for Tottenham last year, had planned to stay in Palestine until July 16th, as part of an international 'Welcome to Palestine' initiative, working with Palestinian NGOs to support and improve the daily lives of local people.

Just hours after arriving back in London, Anne Gray said:
“As soon as we said we were visiting Palestine, the airport authorities branded us, and several hundred other travellers, as troublemakers intent on demonstrating and disrupting the airport. We were given no chance of explaining who we were and the purpose of our trip.

“Our mission was entirely peaceful. We simply wanted to study and work with Palestinian NGOs, listening and observing and lending support with things like negotiating checkpoints and taking children to school through areas with hostile settlers. The organisations we were planning to visit do cultural activities like dance, theatre, and education in human rights law, drawing youth away from stone throwing into other forms of political expression.

“I’m furious at the way we have been treated. We were denied entry to Palestine for no good reason at all – it was all stereotyping, a total smear campaign by the Israeli government and media.”

Deputy Leader of the Wales Green Party, Pippa Bartolotti, is still being detained in Israel with three other women from Wales after refusing to be deported. The British consul in Tel Aviv was speaking with them in the jail when Anne Gray and others were taken to the airport yesterday.

So, at least for Anne and the majority of British activists, their ordeal is over. They have succeeded in publicising the plight of the Palestinian people and the belligerent attitude of the Israeli authorities to peaceful protests.

Anne Gray is available for interviews.

For further information please call Anna Bragga on 078616 77343

Monday, 11 July 2011

Green Activists Arrested in Israel

It has been reported on the Socialist Unity blog that twelve British political activists have been arrested and detained at Tel Aviv airport, for the ‘crime’ of intentionally entering Israel for political purposes. Amongst those arrested are two Green party activists, Pippa Bartolotti, Deputy leader of the Welsh Green party and Anne Gray (pictured) a member of Haringey Green party.

Anne flew out of London on 8th July as part of an international protest by hundreds of people inspired by Mazyn Qumsiyeh, a Christian political activist and academic from Bethlehem, and author of two books, ‘Sharing the Land of Canaan’ and ‘A history of popular resistance in Palestine’. On his trip to the UK to launch the second book in March, he called for people to come to Tel Aviv on the same day, and demand to visit the West Bank without pretending to be ‘tourists’.

At the time of writing, it appears that the twelve British activists and six Israeli activists who had gathered at the airport to welcome the international visitors, are still being detained by Israeli security forces. Despite the best efforts of Haringey Greens to make contact and find out more information on the situation, the British and Commonwealth office, whilst admitting knowledge of the arrests, refuse to divulge anything further. These activists are now entering their fourth day of incarceration and we are now very worried about their wefare.

Before she left the UK, Anne Gray explained the purpose of the group’s mission thus: ‘We plan to be in Palestine till 16th July, listening and observing, maybe lending support to Palestinians as they do things like harvesting crops, negotiating checkpoints or taking children to school, which often gets them harassment by soldiers and settlers.’

What threat to Israeli state security does peaceful behaviour like this pose? Of course, Israel has plenty of history of paranoid over reaction to peaceful protests of this nature. Still fresh in the memory is the violent attack launched by Israeli commandos on an unarmed Turkish boat that was trying to breach the blockade of Gaza with humanitarian aid last year.

Anne is an experienced political activist, comrade and friend, and she knew the risks associated with making this trip, but all right minded people should be appalled at the way she and the other activists have been treated by the Israeli authorities. Write letters of condemnation to your MP and to the Israeli embassy, and demand their immediate release from custody.

The latest but unconfirmed news from Israel is that the British activists will be put onto a flight back to the UK due to land at Luton airport at 23.55 Monday 11 July.

UPDATE 12 July. Two of the detained activists Mick Napier from Edinburgh and John Lynes form London landed at Luton airport last night. There is no word of when the other activists will be returned to the UK, including Green party members Pippa and Anne. There is another flight from Tel Aviv tonight, so we are hoping they will be aboard it. Meanwhile The Morning Star reports that an Al Jarzeera reporter Daniel Poort arrested with the activists said this, 'immigration officials appeared to detain passengers on suspicion, including two young Dutch tourists with no connection to the protests.Those arrested were not questioned until they arrived at a prison in Bir el Saba, more than 60 miles away, he said. The bus was very crammed and 10 men were packed in about three and half square feet area. It was claustrophobic, infested with cockroaches, hot and stuffy and they kept us in the bus for six hours. We were treated like dogs.'

UPDATE 13 July. Anne Gray together with six other British activists were deported from Israel yeaterday. They landed at Luton airport around midnight last night, and appear to be all well. Pippa was not amongst them. Anne will issue media releases when she's had a rest.