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Peace News log archive: August 2011

Articles from the Peace News log.
For archive articles from the whole site, look here

Charlotte Potter-Powell reports on the solidarity day at Dale Farm on 27 August

Dale Farm in Essex is the UK’s largest Travellers’ community. The residents have been fighting for ten years to remain there but now 90 families of 500 people, many of them children, face eviction from 31 August. The Conservative-led Basildon Council has set aside £18 million for an eviction which could take weeks, while supporters have set up a solidarity camp at the site.

The community at Dale Farm are predominantly Irish Travellers and many have lived there for 30 years. They own the site but planning permission has refused because the land, a former scrap-yard, is designated “green belt”. Residents point out that the council has over-ridden green belt status elsewhere for development. They consider that the eviction is disguised ethnic cleansing, pandering to hostile neighbours. The Travellers have been refused alternative culturally appropriate sites, and Amnesty International argue that “Basildon Council has not engaged in genuine consultation consistent with international human rights standards”.

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ImageI was very intrigued when I first heard about the Piccadilly Community Centre. To someone who works in community centres, knows what value they provide to individuals and communities, often fights to keep them open and despairs at how many are now closing, the opening of a new community centre in central London was very exciting.

When visiting it on opening day it was obvious that money had been spent on the project. For example the signage outside the building was brand new and gleaming, there were about six new computers for use, there were free teas, coffees and biscuits provided, there was specialist equipment throughout the building together making for a good facility. As I made my way around I asked who is paying for this. I was hoping the answers would provide a strategy for keeping other community centres open. But I couldn’t find any written information about the background to the project, who was running it or how it was funded. Everyone I spoke to was evasive. I left puzzled.

Imagine my surprise when I opened the Evening Standard newspaper some days later to find, ‘The Piccadilly Community Centre’ reviewed as an art project by Christoph Buchel and run by Hauser and Wirth, the art gallery who own the building in Piccadilly. Reviews called the project a “Sardonic take on the Big Society” (2, June 2011). On further investigation I found several more reviews of this art project including one calling the centre a “pop up”, (http://londonist.com/2011/05/preview-pop-up-community-centre-at-piccadil... ) all agreed that the project was making some negative comment about The Big Society. (See also Adrian Searle, Guardian, 30 May, 2011 and Georgina Adam, FT, June 10, 2011)

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Adam Weymouth on his walking from England to Istanbul, challenging xenophobia, the fear of strangers.

ImageAs I walked along the European bank of the Bosphorus, I stumbled upon a small group of fisherman who were coming to the end of their dinner. They called me over, offering me grapes and raki, and I explained in my smattering of Turkish what I was up to. “Londra, Istanbul,” slap legs, mime walking. “Sekiz ay” (“eight months”).

Throughout my whole journey I had been offered hospitality to an extent I could never have imagined before I left. I had been invited to sleep in peoples’ homes, in bars, in barns, in churches and in mosques. I was fed in restaurants and at mountain passes. I was given friendship and support at times when I really needed it. Yet I assumed I would have been anonymous in a city of thirteen million people. But as we finished eating they told me proudly that the only way to see their city was from the water, and invited me out in their boat. For Muslims, they told me, the duty of hospitality is not a duty only to the stranger, but one to God.

One intention I had when I began, 3,500 miles earlier, was to challenge the culture of fear, the distrust of strangers, that seems to be a given in a world where we are increasingly denied the opportunity to interact with the unknown. With its speed and its fear, our culture robs people of the very chance to offer hospitality. Walking through villages I felt like a rare beast, and found people almost eager to invite me into their houses, to hear my story and to tell me theirs.

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John Linsie reflects on the media's simplistic response to the 2011 "riots".

The present state of affairs on English streets is bad enough but the situation is exacerbated by the platitudinous responses made by most politicians who seem both to have no idea of what is going on or how to respond to the situation without making it worse. The platitudes come out thick and fast: “pure criminality”; “only a minority of the population” (has Cameron any conception of what it would be like to face even a small mob of youths?); “nothing justifies such lawless behaviour”; “sections of our society are sick”; and so on.

Water cannon and plastic bullets are seemingly now on the agenda – which, arguably, if used would only escalate the violence – do you imagine that this would not trigger a tit for tat response from sections of the “youth”? Furthermore, what is the point of threatening imprisonment when the prisons are already overflowing? The present political response is on the level of Toytown’s Mr Grouser: “It ought not to be allowed”.

So what is to be done? First, to recognise that an established generation has the responsibility effectively to hand on a culture to its emergent generation. But that the present established generation has conspicuously failed to do – and I am part of that generation. That responsibility is, moreover, essentially an institutional responsibility – as Benjamin Disraeli neatly observed: “Individuals may form communities, but it is institutions that can create a nation.” And English institutions have failed English children – so much so that politicians, and their hangers on, are now scurrying off to put the blame wholly on parents.

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Pippa Bartolotti writes about her experience of the Gaza "Flytilla" on 7 July when solidarity activists flew to Israel to attempt to openly visit Palestine.

The grating sound of metal on metal as the reverberating CLANNGGG of the heavy prison doors closing on you for the first time cannot be forgotten. The smell of prison; the malicious looks of the guards; the claustrophobic feeling of a cell which distorts your intestines and bleaches your thoughts bare before you even see it.

“I am here for no reason. I have not been charged with anything. Does anyone know I am here?”

My crime was to say I was going to Bethlehem. There were 11 of us on the Easyjet flight from Luton, and we were all to be incarcerated in Givon Jail, Ramla, about 30 km south east of Tel Aviv.

The press dubbed it the “flightilla”, and Netanyahu had unilaterally announced we were hooligans and dangerous provocateurs about to undertake violent demonstrations against Israel. In reality we were a bunch of middle aged men and women who had been invited by 14 Palestinian civil society groups to join them in a cultural tour, which would include theatre and arts groups dedicated to helping young people to live under occupation and channelling their energies towards passive resistance. To me this way of dealing with the psychology of living under an apartheid system was important and fascinating, and I was eager to learn more.

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Russ McPherson responds to an article on Metalkova social centre in Slovenia in PN 2535 with his own experiences in Australia

ImageSpread across 10 acres of land in the suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, is the Ceres Community Environment Park. Pronounced “series” the name has several connotations, the most appropriate perhaps being with the Roman goddess of agriculture.

Dotted with wind turbines and solar photovoltaic panels, Ceres certainly lives up to its founding principle to “initiate and support environmental sustainability and social equity.” The 4 hectare park includes a farm, community gardens, a café selling delicious vegan food, a market on Wednesday and Saturday mornings which sells organic foods and handmade/recycled crafts, a training kitchen, educational nature trails, a volunteer-run bicycle repair group, and various sustainable water and permaculture projects.

The EcoHouse demonstrates sustainable living retrofit options, while other buildings are designed to contribute to a wider knowledge of indigenous cultures and lifestyles. It was in one of these that I discovered the aboriginal map of Australia, which illustrates more than anything the diverse culture that was lost when the white man came.

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Bill Hetherington on his activities on (and around) 6 June 2011 - PN's 75th birthday.

In the month leading up to 6 June a major pre-occupation was preparation for International Conscientious Objectors’ Day, 15 May.

For the past ten years I have prepared a list of representative COs of as many countries as I can find a name for, to be read out at the annual COs’ ceremony in Tavistock Square, London, whilst white flowers each bearing the name of a CO are laid on the Commemorative Stone. Each year further research expands the list, and this time there were 75 names, ranging from Maximilian, beheaded in 295 AD for refusing service in the Roman Army, to COs recently imprisoned in South Korea and Egypt., and Michael Lyons awaiting court-martial in Britain for refusing as a volunteer medic in the Navy to undertake weapons training preparatory to assisting Allied forces in Afghanistan. The same list was also read out at ceremonies in peace gardens in Birmingham and Manchester, and these actions gave impetus to a ceremony at the peace plaque in Oxford.

I have been much involved in the case of Michael Lyons, having attended his unsuccessful hearing by the Advisory Committee on COs in December 2010, and included his case in a written submission by the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) to the Commons Select Committee on the Armed Forces Bill 2011.

On 20 May I attended a preliminary hearing of Michael’s court-martial, in which his counsel raised issues as to the validity of the disobedience charge against him, in relation both to his status as a medic under the Geneva Conventions and his appeal as a prospective CO being pending at the time of the order which he disobeyed. The judge having ruled against counsel’s submissions, I shall attend the full court-martial in early July.

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