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Camden Palestinian group says it’s about ‘human rights, not politics’ after anti-Israel criticism

Nandita Dowson, director of Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association. Picture: Polly Hancock. Nandita Dowson, director of Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association. Picture: Polly Hancock.

Friday, December 6, 2013
11:00 AM

Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association (CADFA) will celebrate its 10th birthday on Tuesday at a party in Belsize Park set to be opened by Frank Dobson, Labour MP for Holborn and St Pancras.

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Over the past decade, the organisation has grown from a small collective concerned about alleged human rights abuses in Palestinian territories into a recognised charity – backed by British Council funding – that has sent hundreds of visitors to the Middle East to experience the Palestinian way of life.

Through a “twinning” relationship with Abu Dis, a Palestinian town on the outskirts of Jerusalem, CADFA has also welcomed hundreds of Palestinian visitors to Camden over the years. The charity claims to have “made Camden famous” among Palestinians.

Last month, CADFA’s work made front page news in the Ham&High, but not for reasons it would have liked.

The newspaper reported the story of Camden school friends Rachel Horigan, 22, and Harres Yakubi, 23, who were thrown into an Israeli prison cell before being deported back to Britain for attempting to volunteer in Palestinian schools.

The pair were taking part in CADFA’s three-month volunteer programme, funded by the British Council’s Youth in Action aid, offering them the chance to live and work alongside Palestinian women and children in Abu Dis’s schools and communities.

However, the pair never made it past Israeli border police at Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport after their plans to volunteer were discovered.

The Israeli Embassy in London told the Ham&High the volunteers were refused entry as they did not have the permit required to enter the West Bank through Israel.

Following the publication of last month’s story, the Ham&High received a swathe of letters from readers arguing that Israel was justifiably enforcing its border policy in deporting two visitors who did not have the necessary documentation.

Finchley and Golders Green MP Mike Freer, a member of the Conservative Friends of Israel, said: “We never know the full facts, 
although I don’t doubt it was an uncomfortable ordeal for the volunteers to go through.

“The difficulty is that because Israel has been the victim of so many attacks throughout the years, their border control is very sensitive to who is entering the country.

“Sometimes from an outsider’s point of view it can seem like Israel over-reacts but every country in the world, the UK included, has a right to control and properly police its borders.”

There was also criticism of CADFA from some readers who claimed the organisation propagates a divisive, anti-Israel message.

But Nandita Dowson, director of CADFA, insisted the charity is a humanitarian cause and strictly non-political.

She said: “We are never going to be drawn into national and religious affiliations. Our group consists of people from many different backgrounds and many different faiths and none.

“It’s about human rights which is international law – it’s about people treating others right. Our work includes talking about human rights violations committed by the Israeli army, because they happen. Unfortunately, this is what life is like there.”

For more information about CADFA, visit www.camdenabudis.net

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