18 February 2003

Mission reaches Gaza City

The Dove and Dolphin mission has arrived in Gaza City. Food and other aid is now being distributed and plans for future visits are already being discussed.
David Halpin, originator and leader of the expedition, surrounded by children on their way to and from school on the streets of Gaza City this morning said:
“We got together last night and discussed the future of the Dove and Dolphin scheme and we don’t want it to fold.
“We don’t want to replicate what already happens. General food support for the poorest people is being organised by people like the United Nations and we don’t want to replicate it.
“Our aim is to keep it simple and concentrate on the children. We have made a strong statement and there is a lot still to discuss and think about. The hard facts are still to be sorted out.”
The Dove and Dolphin team spent last night “in a roomy and well-appointed flat” in Gaza City.
The accommodation and arrangements for aid distribution were organised by Adli Hammad, the team’s main contact in Gaza.
“Adli has made the most careful arrangements for distribution of the food and garments. He also arranged for the silk screen printing of flags both large and small with a dove on it designed by Julia Finzel.
“The large flags have ' With love from the dove and the dolphin and the people of Britain' both in English and Arabic.
“A simple card with the same message but with our other 'logo' of The Dove and The Dolphin will be enclosed with the gifts which will go to about 2000 of the poorest families,” David explained.
The journey in lorries from Ashdod, where the cargo was unloaded from M V Barbara, went smoothly.
The lorries went through into Gaza at Karni but the team had to motor on round to Erez. From there they drove back to Karni through Gaza.
Seeing the cargo transferred from Israeli to Palestinian lorries was an experience.
David explains:
“You have to wait for big door to open into neutral space. The Israelis off-loaded the lorries and deposited the cargo. Then a big gate opens electronically on the other side and the Palestinian fork lifts went whistling in.
“It is an extraordinary set-up.”
In Gaza City the aid has been stored in a warehouse and today it is being re-packed into smaller units which can be distributed to individual families.
Some will go to people in Gaza City and tomorrow the remainder of the aid will be handed out in Khan Yunis refugee camp.
The final leg of the expedition went smoothly, depsite unexpected last-minute laboratory tests on the food element of the cargo – which not only took time but also added to the cost.
But David and his team are happy to have succeeded on a mission which has been organised at break-neck speed at a difficult time.
“It has gone very much to schedule. Actually we were about a day late getting in but getting here seems to be quite an achievement,” he said.
Members of the team are also on schedule to fly back to London and the drive back to Exeter on Thursday.
Meanwhile, there are other elements of the mission also going ahead as planned.
Phil Ireland, from Exmouth, is busy photographing every aspect of the action.
He is also making contact with a local school in order to establish a link with St Joseph’s Primary School in Tiverton.
Helping him in this effort is Humphrey – a teddy bear which is being photographed with local children.
This morning Phil was busy playing football with children in the streets of Gaza City.
John Maughan, from Boscastle, has celebrated their arrival by singing in the streets – to the applause of local children.
He will do the same tomorrow at the refugee camp.
John has been very struck with the experience of Gaza. He said:
“At first sight Gaza City was like very poor areas of our own cities but there are large areas which are really quite swish. Impressive real estate.
“But the over-riding thing that impressed me was the way family life spills out on to the streets.
“We drove through the town last night and there were lots of families sitting outside their houses, with fathers playing with their children.
“It’s just so old fashioned in terms of family values to our eyes. There is such friendliness here.”
Despite hitches and hold-ups, David Halpin says the mission has been helped along by authorities in both Israel and Gaza.
“I can see they have been very conscientious about making sure this little shipment is going to most needy people… I think there was co-operation from the Israeli side in getting the lorries through. They extended hours of working by half hour to do that.”