03 March 2003

Newsletter No 1

News letter No 1 March 3rd 2003

The Voyage of the Dove and the Dolphin

Now that the ‘crew’ has drawn breath there is time for me to give a personal account of our experiences and how we will direct our efforts in future. This newsletter is aimed at our older supporters in particular who rely on the media and the letter rather than the e-mail and web site.

We will leave the actual voyage astern except to say that the sixteen days were mostly happy ones. A spirited Danish master and crew helped. Bottle-nosed dolphins joined us in the Straits of Gibraltar and later a large number of coal black and shiny pilot whales swam determinedly westwards to leave the Mediterranean Sea. We have memories of the snow capped peaks of Crete, John Maughan and Heine Hestoy singing with talent in the wheelhouse and the latter telling us the stars’ names when no other light but our own was visible.

Our path was smoothed by the Israeli Embassy in London but a few hoops were put up by other elements to be removed later after negotiation. This put considerable stress on my wife Susan and on Yousef Zawahreh at the ‘London end’ of ‘shore party’! The port authorities in Ashdod (in Israel) kindly brought Yousef, Phil Ireland (my son’s friend and our recorder) and Jenny Cuffe of Radio 4 out to our ship the Barbara by pilot boat and in the dark. We docked in the early hours and the unloading of 40 tons of flour, 5 tons of milk powder, 3 tons of vegetable oil, 1 ton of cheddar cheese and 0.5 ton of South Devon honey onto three big lorries soon began. In addition there was some olive oil(!), 70 plus boxes of woollen garments and blankets (winters are short but cold and many shelters are poor) and 1.4 tons of reject carpet wool – for weaving we hope. The Israeli Ministry of Health insisted on testing the cheese because it had not been refrigerated in transit and in spite of good documentation from Alvis Bros. the cheese makers. This concern for the Palestinian consumer added $730 to the bill as we left the port but it will be challenged later.

We were passing through the menacing Erez checkpoint an hour later and were soon embracing our Palestinian contacts the first of which is Adli Hammad. He had read civil engineering at Exeter University. He met and married Andrea who comes from Devon; they have eight fit and happy children from 21 down to 7. It was through Andrea’s Mum that I made contact with Adli. This man of transparent integrity had made all the arrangements for reception and distribution of the gifts in Gaza and Khan Younis. We then had to go to the commercial checkpoint at Karni where the shipment was transferred through a ‘nomansland’ to Palestinian lorries. This was at the end of a long day and thankfully special concessions were made on both sides because it was an humanitarian venture. As dusk came we could see the tailback of Palestinian lorries on the other side whose drivers were waiting for the next day.

We spent the next four days making friends and seeing and hearing as much as we could. The reality of their plight is a good deal worse than one can imagine with the help of the media coverage which is usually shallow and reactive. Our day in Khan Younis ‘beach camp’ hit hardest; two of our party wept. We were taken into the home of one family where a shell had plunged through the ‘tin’ roof two weeks before and exploded. It was explained that the shell contained pins which I think the military call ‘flechettes’. The grandfather was killed, an adolescent boy lost an eye and three younger children showed me the entry scars. One of these had ‘shrapnel’ in a lung and was not a well girl. Such shelling occurred in the night and we were told it was arbitrary. Other times military assaults (‘incursions’) are focused on houses or shelters where the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) say there are members of Hamas (Islamic resistance fighters). Our media here seldom explain that international law allows the use of arms against the military in a military occupation. The targeting of civilians on either side is of course proscribed in international law. Later at a pedestrian checkpoint we spoke to a Palestinian mother who had come away from her smallholding that lay within the Israeli coastal settlement with her 6mth old. She had been trying to get back to her husband and four other children for 7 days. These are just two examples of violence which feed into the cycle of violence.

We visited a madrassa (school) in Gaza. ‘What did the children most want to say?’ The 8yr olds that stood said they wanted to be like other children and to live in peace. We met families in their homes who were being given the ‘Dove’ coupons for the food parcels and sacks of flour and spent time at the distribution centres in both cities. As I had hoped everything was being done scrupulously and quietly so that all dignity was preserved. The ‘Dove’ flags that we had paid to have printed in Gaza said ‘With love from the Dove and The Dolphin and the people of Britain’ and similar in Arabic. Most of all there was a meeting of minds and a strong will for a permanent and just peace. We had celebrated our common humanity with them.Soon we were homeward bound via a warm welcome and instructive ‘round’ at St John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem.

And where do we go now? We will continue to help the poorest children. A container of woollen garments for youngsters, plus woollen blankets, exercise books, pencils etc will be sent in April we hope. The response to pieces on BBC Spotlight and Radio Cornwall has been dramatic and heartwarming. We may have sufficient for 3or 4 containers! The priority now is for money which will be sent to Gaza so that folk there can be employed to make uniforms and school bags. They have the materials but there is little money and unemployment runs at 70%. The UNRWA schools are free but the poorest families cannot afford the uniform etc. We might need to buy shoes here. We will stimulate twinning between schools here in the Westcountry and in the Gaza ‘strip’. We will discuss making this triangular with schools in Israel because there must be a negotiated settlement so that both people can live as friendly neighbours. Until then we will highlight the plight of the Palestinian people in an objective manner. We will encourage like minded Israeli and Jewish folk to join us in these several aims.

Shalom and Salam. David Halpin FRCS.

Contributions welcome at Kiln Shotts, Haytor, TQ13 9XR– account ‘The Dove and The Dolphin’.
Charitable status was applied for in early February