19 October 2003

Newsletter No 3 October 2003

NewsletterNo3 October 2003


Neil Young, my reporter friend, and I flew to Tel Aviv overnight for economy on the 14th of September and we went straight south to the Erez checkpoint which lies at the northern limit of the Gaza strip. I had sent a fax three days before to the commanding officer as advised by the FCO which had told us that only diplomats and established NGOs were being ‘allowed’ through. We were the first foreigners to arrive on that hot day. We presented our passports and waited, and waited. No soldier would or could tell us how long the process was going to last. Many folk passed through whilst we waited. After four hours we were told that we were being turned back. A moment of resignation passed and then the sense of truth took over.
The rifles and their bearers became as nothing as I told the assembly that we had not flown 3000 miles to help the poorest children who were suffering terribly only to be turned back. The weapons in our bags were dozens of knitted teddies – dubs- in Arabic and many handmade babies quilts from the Abergavenny Ladies Peace Group! I insisted that I speak to the CO in private. He was a sensitive and intelligent man. After he had heard me out and was left with few illusions he then spoke to the British vice-consul whom I had talked with before leaving Britain. On the fifth hour we were told we could pass through. We had taken longer to move those 30 yards than to fly the 3000 miles! This trouble for us, this powerlessness, was but a speck of that which Palestinian people suffer every day in the land of their birth. It thus was a great delight to find Adli Hammad and Salah Abu-Ali waiting with open arms on the Palestinian ‘side’.


We were put up in this seaside hotel. Before the Al Aqsa or second intifada- literally shaking off the chains - this hotel employed 25 people. Now at the end of the third year of it only four are working and at half pay. We were treated with every kindness and we became good friends with Hamsi the manager, Alyan and the others. I had four morning swims in the warm Mediterranean. When we came to go eight days later after a very informative and inspiring time in Gaza we felt strong emotions as we embraced and said goodbye to our kind hosts. They had only charged us about twenty pounds per day because they knew that our charity was there to help their people.


You will know that £10,000 was sent out in July so that shoes could be purchased from Hebron, and school bags and uniforms from their makers in Gaza. The money had gone further so more children were helped than was planned. They all require shoes and uniform to join their schools and we wanted the poorest children to be helped in this. Seeing cheerful neatly dressed children emerge from crowded and very simple homes whilst F16 jets roared overhead was humbling. I went to one ceremony held in the offices of the Charitable Society for Palestinian Student Support. Under a blue Dove and Dolphin banner, the fitting of shoes and the giving out of school bags were recorded by Palestinian TV. The bags contained a good quantity of exercise books (made in Palestine) plus pencils etc. I saw a lad and potential patient with a gross and easily treated foot deformity. There were lots of happy faces. One tyro trader wanted to swap his newly acquired shoes for a school bag! Incidentally the latter were made in China! There had been insufficient time to find and fund a manufacturer in Gaza but if we are to go on with this welcome scheme we will make sure that the bags are made in Palestine as was everything else. As in Britain the bags and their young muleteers have to be strong enough to carry one hundredweight of books it seems.


Adli, his cousin Esam who cares for most of the medical equipment in Gaza and Salah arranged a full and fascinating itinerary for me which Neil sometimes joined.

The first highlight among many was the El Wafa hospital. This hospital cares for the most dependent folk including some in the deepest coma and some with para or tetraplegia. The standard of care and the esprit de corps were of the highest. The injuries were caused in road accidents or by high velocity missiles or explosives.

One 22yr old Jawwal mobile phone technician was in his van with a mate at the Khan Younis checkpoint. They were told they could drive on and then the vehicle was raked by automatic fire. A bullet at the second lumbar level has rendered him paraplegic.

Later on the ward round we were shown a neat hole in a polycarbamate window. Four months ago two male nursing assistants went in to turn a 15yr old paraplegic patient in the early hours. As they bent down in the light to turn their charge an IDF sniper in an apartment block shot them both dead with the one bullet. The senior doctor who related this goes on to say that he gave many interviews to Western TV/radio companies following this atrocity but as far as he knew none had been aired.

Against this horror we saw two young lads recovering well from head injuries caused by the ubiquitous ‘road accident’. My main point in visiting was to see how children could be helped in hospital and of course how they might be effected by the environment around and above them.

The second was a nursery cum workshop run by an association of young unmarried Muslim ladies. Above the cheerful nursery where at least 250 children were in classes, one of which had the dubs, there was a workshop where 7 poor sisters were working at sewing machines. They were making uniforms for girls of all ages and gowns for women. These were then sold at near cost to the poor parents and at some profit to traders. One lass had 4 unemployed brothers and a Dad who could not work for sickness. She was the sole breadwinner. All the young women were proud and energetic. If we purchase more uniforms we will aim to buy them there.


I could write a book or two on our eight days in Gaza and Khan Younis, the day with Hadil’s people in Hebron and four days in ‘East’ Jerusalem. The latter allowed me to catch up with matron Jacky and the St John’s Eye Hospital. The evening before we departed we had supper with Yousef’s Mum Ann, his Dad Issa, brother and sister. My main impression was that the Palestinian people are suffering more in all respects than when I visited albeit briefly in February. In spite of this they remain resilient and resourceful. Their sanity is saved by a humour which is seldom crushed.

The Dove and The Dolphin will stand by the children. Now – Hooray! I have just heard that we are now registered as a charity. No. 1100119 17th October 2003