LAUREN BOOTH: the awkward sibling who likes to ruffle feathers

PUBLISHED: 16:19 17 November 2008 | UPDATED: 15:36 07 September 2010

Tony Blair s sister-in-law was never afraid to ruffle feathers. Lauren Booth continues her tirade with Ham&High reporter Katie Davies IT seems that Lauren Booth doesn t tire of being controversial. As the half-sister of Cherie Booth and Tony Blair s

Tony Blair's sister-in-law was never afraid to ruffle feathers. Lauren Booth continues her tirade with Ham&High reporter Katie Davies

IT seems that Lauren Booth doesn't tire of being controversial.

As the half-sister of Cherie Booth and Tony Blair's sister-in-law, she wasn't expected to be the woman leading protests over the Iraq war or encouraging her three-year-old daughter to call Uncle Tony a "terrorist".

Likewise in 2006, when the couple were holding on to power at No.10, they probably wanted her to appear on reality TV show I'm A Celebrity... Get Me Out Of Here! about as much as they wanted their own helping of witchetty grubs.

And similarly today, in a quiet cafe in Crouch End, the enfant terrible of the Blair family is refusing to rein in her views, even if this time they aren't about her brother-in-law.

"Gaza is a concentration camp," she fumes. "Why am I using an inflammatory term? Because underplaying the situation in Gaza and being sensible has done them no good at all.

"That's not the same as mincing with the truth - it's that the situation there has been underplayed for too long.

"Gaza isn't a prison - a prison is somewhere guilty people go, somewhere people are locked up for the good of society.

"Sixty-one per cent of the population there are children. They are not prisoners, they've had no due process - it is more like an internment camp.

"They are being tortured for their race or, the latest excuse, their political opinions. That - under the Oxford English Dictionary definition - is a concentration camp and I want people to be shocked by it, I want them to see the civilian life there.

"If they cannot escape, they've got soldiers around them, people keeping food from them - what else is it?"

Booth has been campaigning hard around the Israel-Palestinian conflict since her first visit as a journalist to Ramallah in 2005.

Born in Hampstead Way, schooled in New End, graduating to homes in Crouch End and rural France, Booth hasn't simply been watching the situation from a distance since then.

In August, she was one of 45 activists on a boat called Free Gaza which sailed to the region breaking Israel's blockade.

On disembarking, she wasn't allowed to leave via Israel or Egypt for a month and was left living in Gaza - experiences she will discuss at Islington Town Hall on Wednesday.

This was (although there was some backbiting during I'm A Celebrity) the first time a number of commentators turned against her.

Several snide remarks made her out as politically naive and some verged on laughter about the fact that she was stuck there. I ask her what she thought of that reaction.

"It didn't affect me at all because I was in Gaza," she replies. "But really I think it's abhorrent.

"Do people think, 'Oh, it's OK then that Gaza should be a prison where innocent people, journalists, human rights observers go and get locked up?' What are they saying 'ha ha' for? Do they think that's right, that people deserve it for going there to raise awareness?"

Though as a Blair relative she may have been victim to more scoffing than others, she says the relationship has been more of a help than a hindrance in her work.

"It has been absolutely brilliant - if you want to have a voice and you want to do some good and the media takes an interest for whatever reasons, if it brings a focus on to an area like Gaza then I am immensely grateful," she shrugs.

Likewise, she finds it backs up her argument that Palestinians are a peace-loving people.

She admits: "When I was going to Gaza I had a moment thinking, 'Well, what about Islamic jihad, is that going to be dangerous?' I walked around as the sister-in-law of Tony Blair - God as my witness - I walked around Rafah refugee camp at night on my own.

"People knew who I was, I was welcomed and I was safe. The Hamas police force has pledged safety as much as possible for the people living there - that is not to say they are perfect - but the organisation that kidnapped Alan Johnston is all but finished now."

This theme of peace among Palestinians is one to which the journalist continually returns.

When stranded in Gaza, she says a woman took her in, offering her daughter's clothes to her.

"It's raised time and time again that within Islam there's an inherent hate for Judaism - it's a lie," she says.

"I have been in homes and I hear and I see people want to live in peace with their neighbours. There is a genuine feeling of welcome.

"The danger for someone visiting is that you'll get loved to death - force-fed mint tea and biscuits." Booth the journalist clearly knows sentences like this will cause a stir and it is easy to see why she causes such a backlash among Israel's supporters.

No one can deny violent attacks and terrorism have been committed by people living in Palestine. But her real argument is that the Palestinian people are being punished indiscriminately and permanently for it.

"I don't condone any violence at all," she says. "Why am I talking about Palestine? Because they are under occupation and I have seen the suffering first-hand.

"I don't want to talk about anything else - just the human rights abuses. I would invite anyone to look at what is going on in Gaza, go to the websites like www.

btselem.org, www.icahd.org and www.freegaza.org. People should read up about that before they react to me.

"If Londoners went through what Gazan people go through for one day, we would commit massacres, we would riot. They've been going through it for 60 years.

"Millions of people are being denied their human rights under international law. I don't care who is doing it - that's not an issue. It's just time we observed people's rights.

"It is time for the world community to make sanctions against occupying forces who trample over Geneva conventions and the human rights of the citizens whose lives are in its control."

Lauren Booth is giving a talk about her experiences at Islington Town Hall on Wednesday November 19 at 7pm at an event organised by the Islington Friends of Yibna.

katie.davies@hamhigh.co.uk


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