A court has heard that travellers evicted from Dale Farm are threatening to return.
A court has heard that travellers evicted from Dale Farm are threatening to return. Reuters

The standoff between the bailiffs and the residents of Dale Farm has started with members of the traveller community and activists claiming they will fight the "ethnic cleansing". So in the wake of David Cameron's speech on the riots with a strong emphasis on morality and days after singer Kelis spoke out about the insidious nature of racism in Britain, is the Dale Farm eviction an illustration of the increasing dislike of cultural differences or simply based on the non-respect of the council's planning permission.

The eviction notice has made the headlines for a few weeks and various organisations have come out affirming their support of the Dale Farm traveller community.

The land, which was used as a scrapyard, was bought by the travelling community around 30 years ago, but problems surfaced when the council realised at least half the site has no planning permission for the building of homes, leading to the eviction attempt of 400 people on Monday September 19.

The government says the 86 families and 100 children in the Dale Farm camp site in Essex have illegally taken up residency in the area but members of the community have tried to fight the council's decision in court for the last ten years.

In the light of the traveller's fight, many say the eviction is motivated by racial bias and the debate has even rallied Jewish activists who have vowed to support the travellers and gypsies' rights, drawing comparison between anti-traveller feeling and anti-Semitism.

A website called Jewify.org even replaces the word "Gypsy" in negative news stories, with the word "Jew", illustrating how the headlines inspired by the issue would then turn into headlines such as "Anger at Jewish invasion."

Liberal Judaism's Rabbi Janet Burden, who visited the site as a member of a Jewish solidarity group, said: "The travellers are vilified just as Jews were in this country in the early part of the 20th century. The language used clearly echoes the rhetoric of antisemitism."

"This is a difficult case, with raised passions on all sides, but our concern as Jews is the tendency for members of the Traveller community to be stereotyped and stigmatised. As we have learned from our shared experiences as victims of Nazi tyranny, demonising a minority in this way is never acceptable, "Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies, also said.

Following the UK government's decision to stick with Basildon Council's decision, the United Nations also issued a statement which called for a halt to racial discrimination.

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination called on the government to suspend the evictions, and called for negotiations.

"We call on the Government to suspend the planned eviction, which would disproportionately affect the lives of the Gypsy and Traveller families, particularly women, children and older people," the Committee members said.

"We urge the authorities to find a peaceful and appropriate solution, including identifying culturally appropriate accommodation, with full respect for the rights of the families involved."

In March 2010, the Committee had already sent a letter to the UK under its Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure, expressing its concern, seeking clarification and calling for protection of the human rights of the families.

The UN's move came as lawmakers warned the forced evictions may breach articles 2 and 5 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and are inconsistent with the Committee's General Recommendation No. 27 (2000) on Discrimination against Roma.

"Travellers and Gypsies already face considerable discrimination and hostility in wider society and the Committee is deeply concerned that this could be worsened by actions taken by authorities in the current situation and by some media reporting of the issues," the Committee added.

As the first day of eviction takes place, The Guardian said the government has blocked attempts by the United Nations to help negotiate a deal between travellers at the Dale Farm site in Essex and Basildon council, fuelling speculation that more than planning permissions are at stake.

The council has repeatedly rejected allegations its decisions to evict part of the dale farm Families was based on their "lifestyle or ethnicity" and defending the council's move, councillor Tony Ball, has insisted those being evicted were being treated exactly the same way as any other citizen.

The clearance, he reiterated, is "absolutely nothing" to do with the travellers' "choice of lifestyle or background".

"The council has spent the last 10 years attempting to find a peaceful solution to the illegal site at Dale Farm. A forced clearance has always been a reluctant last resort for us, but the travellers have left us with little option after exhausting the legal process.

He added: "It is important to remember that this is at heart a planning dispute about an illegal development on green belt land. It has absolutely nothing to do with the travellers' choice of lifestyle or ethnicity, and they are being treated in exactly the same way as any other citizen.

"Those who truly have the travellers' interests at heart would serve them better by encouraging Dale Farm residents to comply with the 28 Day Notice and leave the site peacefully."

The Gypsy Council on the other hand has rejected the council's claims, affirming it turned a planning dispute into an issue of race.

Joseph Jones, the secretary of the Gypsy Council, told The Huffington Post UK: "It is a planning dispute, but it's been turned into more of an issue of race than planning, it's all about the fact that it's a Gypsy site and there are these travellers there," he said.

"The council has let down the community by not fulfilling its duty of care to provide enough places for Gypsies and travellers to live within its district."

While traveller and gipsy advocates have insisted the community is often treated with disdain, and are victims of racism, the council says it has tried to convince those who face eviction to go into alternative accommodation, travellers insist they should have the right to live in mobile homes.

In an article on The Independent.ie Ruth Dudley Edwards vents her frustrations by exposing what she describes as "English people's resentments".

"Before I get to the recent allegations that some travellers kept slaves, let's remind ourselves why English people resent and fear encampments like Basildon. They hate that hundreds of Irish people turn up unannounced in a peaceful place, treat planning laws with contempt, build eye-sores and strew rubbish around the place...Locals resent the noisiness of encampments, the crime they generate and the aggression and threats that are frequent responses to complaints and appeals. They hate how local schools and hospitals are suddenly swamped. They would protest more than they do, but they are fearful of having their windows broken or their houses torched."

Generalisations are often very dangerous as describing a community and therefore each of its members as being responsible of committing reprehensible acts often leads to reinforce clichés and misconceptions.

Denying the existence of racism in the UK, Europe or in the world would also be highly misguided. Anti-migrant rhetoric in Europe has also seen a rise in recent years, but while this increase could have led to a healthy debate, many are still afraid of openly discussing the existence and implication of racism. Whether or not the council's motivation is based on more than the lack of planning permission, the debate it has created reveals grievances from both the travellers camps and members of the public that acknowledges having difficulties understanding a community that has been far too marginalised.