Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign


Welcome to the Exeter Palestine Solidarity Campaign Website. Last updated: 17 January, 2010

Have a Nice Holiday

When you say you are going to be away for a couple of weeks ‘have a nice holiday’ is often the response. To explain that you are going to Gaza can meet with a blank look and even when you say Palestine this is confused with Pakistan. Maybe I am being hard but with a husband who has dedicated his later life to do all he can for the plight of Palestinians I feel, like him, that the Israel/Palestine ‘conflict’ is the heart of world peace and everyone should know about it.

I have just returned from our joint visit - the first for me but the eighth for David. Little did we know when we booked our tickets that Israel was to invade Gaza and kill over 130 - many children and mothers, on the very weekend we were due to arrive. Our timing was set well in advance to coincide with a medical symposium in Gaza at which David was to give two talks to medical students on The Education of Doctors in Palestine and Water. Needless to say the conference had to be postponed. The second object of our visit was to meet with Nihad who represents our charity The Dove and the Dolphin in Gaza. We needed to sort out several ‘office issues’, plan for future projects and meet or visit as many youngsters as possible who are sponsored by our donors in the UK.

On the invitation of a young lady barrister (Mary) who David got to know in London when dealing with legal actions in Palestine, we flew to Amman in Jordan. Her father owns the Radisson Hotel and in which she and her husband have a part in its management. Hearing of the invasion of Gaza by Israel we were forced to stay three nights in Amman where we enjoyed the luxury of a five star establishment! Mary made us so welcome and organised a day’s sightseeing for us to Jerash (beautiful and extensive Roman ruins) and then the Dead Sea. Finally we thought we were on our way to Gaza but on reaching Jerusalem where we met Prof Tony Davies we learned that the Eretz check point was still closed and another two nights were spent waiting for the border to open which left us feeling
frustrated. David has made several acquaintances in Jerusalem - a trader in the Old City and Ibrahim who sells olive wood carvings are two that we visited. We also caught a bus to the outskirts of Bethlehem to visit the Aida refugee camp where we support the Lajee Youth centre. Nidal, the key worker along with Khaloud, a 20 year old student, showed us round. The children have done a huge amount of photographic pieces with the aid of Rich Wiles, a photographic artist. He is currently exhibiting in Europe in order to raise funds to bring a group of children to the UK
in the summer. There are 4000 people living in the camp and 40% of them are under 18. The total area is about two and a half acres and Nidal said his ultimate dream would be to buy a piece of ground where the children could play in relative safety. While we were at the camp we could hear gunfire nearby. We learnt that young people were
demonstrating in protest against the 130 killed in Gaza. The Israeli army had opened fire on the demonstrators and in the short time we were there four children had been shot. Before leaving Bethlehem we made a quick visit to Bethlehem Arab Society for Rehabilitation so Tony could collect a set of microsurgical instruments for Sonia Robbins who was already in Gaza.

Finally four and a half days late we headed for Gaza along with Tony who was also planning to teach students. I was not looking forward to the Erez checkpoint where one expects delay and a grilling. Our crossing from Jordan into the West bank had taken nearly three hours with tedious bureaucracy plus a good deal of b-----ing about. Erez is a vast hanger like building bristling with cameras and a series of metal turnstile type gates which you struggle through with your luggage. No other travellers were there so our ‘processing’ was relatively quick but there is about half a mile of walking from one end of the exercise to the other, much on open rough ground. Overhead you hear the drones whose
cameras are keeping a close eye on you. Now we are in Gaza and all you can see is rubble which is the remains of many flattened factories.

Dr Khamis had sent a car from the El Wafa Hospital to meet us and we were soon whisked away passing dereliction like you can’t imagine. Whilst we sat eating hospital lunch we could hear shells landing not so far away and see puffs of smoke. We overlooked fields which could have people or animals in them (you can‘t bear to imagine). Our welcome was so warm and Khamis is such good fun I immediately felt at home. We were reassured that Gaza was calm and we were quite safe and I believed him (am I naïve?). The Islamic University had arranged accommodation for us in an extremely spacious first floor apartment with balconies on all sides. The view from our bedroom looked down to a harbour full of small fishing boats. You could imagine an evening stroll by the sea but we did not go alone though it was safe. Roads in Gaza have been damaged by Israeli tanks and some are impassable with a vehicle. Amongst luxurious looking buildings are those completely shattered or others bearing the scars of gunfire. As Israel is not allowing any materials into Gaza no repairs can be made at present. No petrol is being allowed in so the roads were much quieter than on David’s previous visits. Some diesel is coming in so there is a mad rush to fill up when the tankers arrive even though the price per litre has gone sky high.

First thing on the next day we were collected by Nihad and taken to the D & D office. Several Mums or youngsters were arriving to collect their monthly donation of $30 from sponsors in the UK. The optician was also seeing patients in the adjoining Optics Centre. David had his eyes tested to get an idea of Hamed’s proficiency. He was fine and the
patients are pleased with his spectacles. We discussed future plans before being taken to the Assalama Rehab Centre where we are supplying 10 computers for disabled folk to learn IT. The stops had been pulled out and our tour was grander than we wished, seeing every department in detail but interesting all the same. Wherever you go in Gaza tea, coffee or juice is the first priority - I have never drunk so much in my life. On that Wednesday evening we dined with Khamis and his family - what a feast and what a large family with brothers, sister-in-laws, uncles, aunts and many many children all appearing to shake hands. I kissed the children and they kissed David’s hand in the Arab fashion, putting the back of their little hands to their foreheads. Women and children stay in a family room which I was invited into but the men and bigger boys stayed outside.

I felt extremely humbled by the warm reception we received everywhere. We had meetings with the Water & Sewage authority, the priest in charge of the Roman Catholic School -Father Manuel Musallam, a minister in the Hamas government and the head of the Free Gaza Campaign - Jamal Al-Khoudary. I was a bit overwhelmed but can understand how pleased they all are to see someone from the ‘outside world’. Apart from journalists virtually no one goes into Gaza. The Israelis and the British consulate combine to ensure that. We met up with Adli Hammad and family. Adli was the key man when David sailed in MV Barbara with food, clothes, medical supplies and carpet wool in 2003. He is married to Andrea who comes from East Budleigh and they have eight children. Two are now in England but the four youngest are still at school in Gaza. We had a jolly evening with them but it is tricky for teenagers who have had a taste of the West.

We did not expect to see anyone on the Friday (Jumaa) morning but we had a journalist from Khan Younis join us for breakfast. Mohammed Omer only just escaped losing his life in the recent invasion and showed David the most terrible scenes and injuries on his laptop. David has a good idea what ‘modern’ weapons had caused such mutilation and burning; he wrote about them in November 2006. Nihad had invited us for lunch and again we were royally entertained with a never ending stream of relatives coming to join us. Nihad’s three year old tried to lock the door during lunch so we could not leave he was so keen to be with us! Nihad’s wife had had a baby daughter three days before our visit so Mum had prepared the super lunch. We spent the afternoon visiting sponsored youngsters in their homes. They were all in refugee camps and extremely poor but again at each one a tray of tea or juice came out. One home more than the rest sticks in my mind - we walked down a narrow ally and then up two flights of rough blackened
breezeblock steps in to a dark two roomed ‘hovel’. Maisa’a who we had come to visit is 15 years old is tall and thin and does not look very well. David noticed her legs were very bowed but we did not go into that. We had a card and photos to give her from Jenny Dainton and she managed to write a few words of thanks in return. Her ambition is to be a journalist. We gave her and all the other children we visited a little extra cash. Many of the children who are receiving sponsorship will be eighteen this year so they will come to the end of their secondary school education but if we can we would like to find replacements. One in particular is Mohammad who had done very well and who wants to be a teacher. There are many children in his family and his mother actually asked if another of her sons could have help. The 30 dollars a month they receive from us is a huge help.

Our last whole day in Gaza was spent at the Islamic University - this was the only place I had to cover my head. While David was talking to staff in the medical school, I was given a tour of the school of nursing and the IT centre for blind students. The university buildings are superb but marred by the very extensive damage done by a Fatteh faction in February 2007. When David and his six doctor companions visited a few weeks later he recalls the President, Dr Kamalain Sha’ath, saying ‘all this is in the past’. Such forgiveness is rare in our world is it not? I joined David to go to the auditorium where he gave his paper on education of young doctors to a large audience.

Our exit from Gaza was straightforward. In summing up I would say the people are resilient, very warm and resourceful and they are not giving up despite the pitiless attacks from their neighbours and the gross deprivation.

Susan Halpin   13th March 2008