Creating people's geographies
Staff and agencies
Monday July 31, 2006
A Labour MP deported from Israel while attempting to deliver books to a children’s library in Ramallah today attacked the “outrageous” interrogation she was subjected to.Lynne Jones was with eight charity workers on a scheduled trip to the West Bank, but were turned back after 11 hours questioning at Tel Aviv airport without being allowed into the country.
Speaking at a press conference in Birmingham, the MP for the city’s Selly Oak constituency told reporters: “It was quite a nightmare.
“We were kept for 11 hours without being offered any food or drink other than water.
“It was quite outrageous to suggest we were in any way a security risk – our mission was of peace and reconciliation.”
Dr Lynne Jones, whose party had intended to make a peace and reconciliation visit to Ramallah, said officials at Tel Aviv airport had even scanned children’s books for explosives.
The women arrived back at Birmingham international airport at midnight last night following their deportation.
They had left Britain at 5pm on Saturday for the trip, which aimed to build links between Ramallah and the west Midlands following a number of fundraising efforts by Birmingham’s Ramallah twinning committee.
Dr Jones stressed that the Israeli embassy had been fully notified of the group’s plans, even being provided with their passport numbers in advance.
The MP added: “This visit has been planned since last year when a similar visit had to be cancelled because the same thing happened to the women involved. I got involved because of what happened last year.”
Sitting near some of the children’s books, which included titles such as Teddy’s House and A Martian Comes To Stay, the politician said a variety of reasons had been given for the decision to deport the women.
“They said we needed a special permit to enter the Occupied Territories and then changed their tune.
“It was as if they were looking for any excuse.”
Party member Samantha Owen, who works at Birmingham’s central library, said the children’s books had been collected to help build a library for youngsters in a refugee camp who had “absolutely nothing”.
Kathryn Day, a children’s centre worker from Birmingham, was the first to be quizzed by Israeli security staff.
As another of the women sobbed nearby, the 44-year-old said: “I was interviewed by a man who said his nickname was the Devil.
“He told me that he knew why I was here and that I had to tell him.
“I said ‘We are just here for the twinning committee’, but he just kept on and on at me.
“He threatened me with MI5 and said he was going to send me straight to MI5.
“I started crying because I really was terrified.”
The twinning committee’s chairman, Kamel Hawwash, said: “The delegation’s visit was discussed at length with the Israeli embassy in London and details of the participants and their itinerary were provided to the embassy as requested.
“The women had gone to develop links between the citizens of Birmingham and the citizens of Ramallah and were due to meet Palestinian women and children’s organisations.
“We had raised money for a children’s library and nursery at a refugee camp in Ramallah and the women were due to check on the progress of these badly-needed projects.”
A spokesman for the Israeli embassy in London said: “The group was informed verbally and also by way of written communication that we would not be able to guarantee their entrance. Nevertheless, the group decided to go.”