The Dove and Dolphin

ImageSusan and myself are off to Gaza. We will be amongst many friends and staying with a family whom we looked after in Britain. The objects – solidarity first and foremost, the Dove and Dolphin, and for me to speak with the medical students of the Islamic University.

Nihad Taha has arranged a full schedule with some time to put our feet up as well!

I have met the students twice before. I was impressed with their calibre and their devotion to their studies. I have prepared two talks with 'power point' presentations for them at the request of my brother, Dr Khamis Elessi. One is on wound management and the other is philosophical – how should we care for people in sickness and in injury. Public health will be included in the discussion. I will, of course, speak of the advanced evisceration of our NHS which was set well in train under the 'Peace' envoy Blair.

 

I am pleased to present the latest edition of the Dove & Dolphin newsletter in PDF format.

Please click here to download and read 

Surgeon reaches Gaza to deliver aid

Linda Jackson
Wednesday February 19, 2003
The Guardian


A 3,000-mile mercy mission led by a retired British surgeon to provide humanitarian aid to the one million Palestinian's living in Gaza - featured in Society last month - has almost achieved its goal.

Vital supplies of food and medical equipment were being distributed from a cargo ship yesterday directly to children and families in need. And expedition leaders hope their trip will inspire others to do the same, making "citizen-to-citizen" contact without the involvement of politicians, or religious organisations.

The success of the Dove and Dolphin mission marks the end of a dream for David Halpin, the 62-year-old orthopaedic surgeon from Devon. He set sail with his crew from Torquay two weeks ago and arrived in the port of Ashdod, in Israel, in the early hours of Monday morning. The 55-tonne cargo of flour, cheese, milk powder and medical equipment has been taken to Karni, in Gaza where it is being distributed by village elders.

Speaking from Israel, Halpin says: "There have been lots of complications and delays, but the end is in sight and soon the cargo will be in the hands of the people who need it most. We've had some bad moments - the worst being a force nine gale in the Bay of Biscay - but our gifts are arriving at a time when thousands of children on the Gaza strip are going hungry. I hope I have done a little to ease their pain and highlight human rights abuses."

Halpin and his wife, Sue, have so far spent £95,000 on the mission, but have received donations of around £25,000. He says he will continue to highlight the plight of the Palestinians. "I am determined the connections with the west country and Gaza will continue and I hope to register Dove and Dolphin as a charity working for the Palestinian people."

SocietyGuardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006
The bombing of innocent Afghan families from 32,000 ft who had no connection whatsoever with ‘9/11’ galvanised me. I knew that the suffering of the Palestinian people within the remnants of Palestine was great and sensed that truism ‘if there is no peace in Palestine, there will be no peace in the Middle East, and if there is no peace in the Middle East there will be no peace on Earth’. A secondary stimulus was the threatened military assault on Iraq. My reading had led me to conclude that the reasoning was spurious and that there was no legal basis for it either. Finally, I felt that in all the vitriol and unreason, a bit of inspiration was not out of the way.

I spent four days in London in the autumn of 2002. I attended a lobby for a just peace in Palestine. During an all day illuminating seminar on this topic an idea germinated. A boat was the way to bring some sustenance to malnourished children and useful attention to their predicament. Its size and the symbolism would ensure such publicity that safe and rapid passage through Israeli borders would be ensured.

Was there a port in Gaza? There was a web site for one but it tailed off. I learnt that a French company had started building one with Saudi money and then it was bombed. That meant taking any cargo to Ashdod, an Israeli port dating back to biblical times and lying about 60 miles north of the northern limit of the Gaza Strip. The general details cleared in my mind.

On the 3rd of January 2003 the voyage was announced in our regional paper, the Western Morning News, but without the knowledge of my wife Susan. I had guessed that she would never have gone along with such a scheme. From angry denial, she was then swept along with the many letters and calls of support. I quickly became used to speaking with radio and TV reporters; from Sky and Richard and Judy to our regional stations. Although I am shy by nature, I was happy to do this because it was vital for the success of the voyage and for public financial support. This was an enjoyable experience and I can speak well of the young journalists I met. Their interest and enthusiasm sprang partly from the unusual nature of the project and partly from the large cost to ourselves. This was projected to be £120,000 and having sold our old thatched house, we had some leeway. I recall reminding the Sky man, Mr Lowe, that a new Rolls had come on the market the previous day for twice that and for one fellow to drive.

The dove was an obvious symbol but the olive branch in its beak was additionally poignant for the Palestinian people given the destruction of many, many thousands of olive trees, some of which were growing I am told at the time of Christ. As for the dolphin, I am much involved with Brixham Sea Watch which has campaigned for 13 years against the killing of the common dolphin in the bass pair fishery. This was chosen as a symbol of what man is doing to the natural world. Chris Weatherley’s artist brother Peter produced a design for our flag in three hours from request one night. Banners saying ‘SHALOM’ for the bow port rail and ‘SALAM’ for the starboard were made. But I sail ahead too fast. At first we were going in the Brixham trawler belonging to John Hingley. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency sank that with the rule book – thankfully. We could only have taken 17 tonnes of supplies, had little room and it burned excessive diesel. Then I looked for a ship to purchase and became ‘expert’ at ex-RN tenders, an unsuitable ship for deep waters with hidden disasters waiting in the engine room! One of my expert advisers then suggested chartering a cargo vessel. Steve Gillie of Gillie and Blair, Newcastle was wonderfully helpful but there was an underlying nervousness. He had never chartered a vessel for a private individual before! Within a day or so he had secured a 66 metre Danish cargo vessel, MV Barbara, Marstal with a price of £64,000 to take our cargo from Torquay to Ashdod in 16 days. She was due to sail from Esbjerg to St Peter Port, Guernsey so a leg back to Torquay fell in well.

The proposed sailing day was the 1st of February, 28 days after it was first announced. 40 tons of flour, 5 tons of milk powder, 3 tons of vegetable oil (for cooking) and 1 ton of the cheddar cheese from the Mendips were ordered. Wholesale prices were an eye opener and all food was of the best quality. Half a ton of South Devon honey (little of this now in the land of milk and honey) was added and later caused particular delight. £1,500 worth of basic medical supplies were provided by Dr Hamami from Chalfont. About 100 boxes of warm blankets/clothes were gathered in. 1.4 tons of waste carpet wool were donated. I knew there was over 60% unemployment and it seemed good sense to take something that could be worked.

No religious symbols or national flags (other than those required by convention) were to be flown. This was a voyage of one small group of world citizens to another in their suffering. A 25 metre long banner was made quicksticks by a firm in South Wales. It was to be flown between fore and stern masts with a quotation from Albert Schweitzer – ‘Reverence for All Life’ and above in smaller letters – ‘Justice – Peace – The Brotherhood of Man’. I was to be joined by the trawler skipper and the ‘Busker of Boscastle’ John Maughan – for song, as well as a young man who had been in trouble and who needed broader horizons.

After a frenetic four weeks and more crests than troughs we sailed from Haldon Pier, Torquay on 1st of February. There were many folk and family. ‘Sky’ was there again and alone came down into Gaza from Jerusalem eighteen days later. The pilot eased the ship out into the gathering dusk and my two little grandchildren went on waving until we were just navigation lights.

On day two it was a force 9. The ship was virtually in ballast (she could carry 1100 tons) and the maximum roll was 48 degrees! As the bow crashed down, the ship shuddered to a halt it seemed. Back at base Sue was stuck into endless, doom laden messages from the Israelis but was helped by a remarkable young Palestinian materials scientist – now a trustee. Spirits lifted when a pod of dolphins joined us off Gibraltar. Later hundreds of pilot whales were seen determinedly swimming westwards. There were memorable evenings spent on the bridge with singing led by Heine, the master, and John. We were often alone but for the stars. As we steamed into the eastern Mediterranean it was evident that a cordon had been thrown across it. In one day the officer of the watch was interrogated from 2 US warships, 2 fixed wing planes and one helicopter. These were all under NATO aegis I believe.

Heine Hestoy, Preben the engineer, the young mate Per and the 4 other crewmen got the ship to Ashdod as predicted on the 16th. The Faroese master is a remarkable man. Not many other men or ship owners would have taken ourselves and our cargo to an Israeli port then. We had to ride at anchor out of the harbour along with many other ships because there was a westerly swell but we were treated kindly and docked before others during the night. The hatches were soon open and in a few hours 3 lorries and their trailers were loaded. It was all too good. I then spent 4 hours with the shipping agent getting extra dollars ‘wired’ over. That was partly due to the Israeli MoH which insisted on testing the cheese. One block was ‘swabbed’ and a bill of $736 resulted. A rebate for this likely culture of lactobacillus casei was never forthcoming and still rankles.

By teatime, a further concession allowed our cargo through the separate checkpoint later than usual. The distribution of the food and clothing to the poorest people had been arranged in advance and in an orderly way by my ‘other half’ Adli Hammad who lives in Gaza City with his English wife – a Devon lady. The quality of the food was especially appreciated and the honey caused great delight. I took very little part in this but instead the four of us were taken around the Gaza Strip, including Rafah, in the four packed days there. The two Johns were reduced to tears by what we saw and heard. Before we flew from Tel Aviv, we visited the excellent St John’s Eye Hospital in Jerusalem which I knew of already.

The ‘Voyage of The Dove and The Dolphin’ continues. Our further actions in Gaza are written up in newsletters on www.doveanddolphin.com Charity No. 1100119
David Halpin, ex-surgeon still moved by suffering

Linda Jackson
Wednesday January 15, 2003
The Guardian


David Halpin is one of those rare people willing to make a personal sacrifice for what he believes in. But as a retired orthopaedic surgeon in the west country, he makes an unlikely saviour for the one million Palestinians living in Gaza.

On Friday, 62-year-old Halpin is due to put to sea on a 3,000-mile trip to deliver supplies of food and medical equipment. What motivates a former doctor to charter a Brixham trawler to make such a gruelling, 28-day journey to the Middle East?

Halpin, who was a consultant at Torbay hospital and the Princess Elizabeth orthopaedic hospital in Exeter, says he has never been able to stand by in the face of suffering. Over the years, he has "fought like a tiger" for his patients, who have faced hospital closures, and he was a vociferous opponent of the NHS internal market. More recently, he has been a keen conservationist, winning prizes for his sensitive treatment of woodland.

Born and brought up in Dorset, Halpin says his passion to help others was ignited at age 13 when he discovered the teachings of Albert Schweitzer, the doctor and philosopher who won the Nobel peace prize in 1953. Schweitzer made "reverence for all life" an elementary and universal principle of ethics and devoted his life to providing healthcare to people in Africa. It was this philosophy that inspired Halpin, the elder of four children, to become a doctor. He recalls: "My parents were shocked when I told them what I wanted to do. My father was a small businessman. I think he was afraid it would cost a lot of money."

Halpin trained for six years at St Mary's medical school, west London, qualifying in 1964. During this time, he was supported by his wife, Susan, who worked as a nurse, and the couple adopted two children. Various jobs followed, including spells teaching anatomy at King's College, London, and working as a general surgeon in Bristol, before he moved to the Princess Elizabeth in 1970 to specialise in orthopaedics.

"I wanted to train in orthopaedics as it was more hands-on than general surgery," he says. "The hospital was excellent and a marvellous place to train." After subsequently working in the US and in Cornwall, he was appointed consultant at Torbay and the Princess Elizabeth - a post he held until ill-health forced early retirement 10 years ago.

His love for the Princess Elizabeth would later lead him to battle against its closure. First, though, he found he had a fight on his hands with introduction of the internal market. Torbay hospital was one of the first in the country to apply for trust status and he became a vociferous, but lonely, opponent.

"I had seen evidence from America that administration costs would double and I feared for our good relationship with GPs," he says. "I went to meetings about the reforms, but I was told to sit down and keep quiet." The hospital went on to become one of the first NHS trusts.

The struggle took its toll on Halpin's health and he took early retirement, although he continued to work as a locum. He also came out with all guns blazing when closure of the Princess Elizabeth was announced. The site was to be sold for upmarket housing, with a new orthopaedic centre built at the Royal Devon and Exeter hospital. "I fought like a tiger to keep the hospital," says Halpin. "Once you damage something, it's difficult to replace it. But health chiefs pushed ahead and closed it on its 70th anniversary. They claimed it was too isolated."

Disillusioned with the way the health service was being run, Halpin performed his last operation two years ago and has since devoted his efforts to conservation. His sensitive planting of 35 acres of woodland has been recognised by judges at the Devon County Show, who also awarded him a prize for the building of a linney - a two-storey barn.

Halpin has sponsored his £45,000 mercy mission personally, but is appealing for support. "Money is no good in the bank when there are people are suffering," he says. "Some people, unfortunately, will spend £40,000 on a car. The truth is, I cannot sit back while thousands of children go hungry on the Gaza strip. If I can do a little to ease their pain, and highlight the human rights abuses, then my trip will be a success."

He plans to spend three or four days in Gaza, fact-finding and distributing aid. Advice has been taken from the Palestinians on what they need most and stores - including butter and flour from small farm networks in the west country - have been stockpiled at Brixham, Devon, ready for loading on the boat, the Jacoba.

Halpin, who has asked the Foreign Office to facilitate the trawler's docking at Ashdod, in Israel, says it will not carry any national flag or religious symbol. The words Justice, Peace, and The Brotherhood of Man will be emblazoned on the rigging - alongside Reverence for All Living Creatures. There will be two other words: Shalom, Hebrew for peace, and Salaam, the Arabic equivalent.

"This is symbolic as well as humanitarian," says Halpin. "We are going there to show the gross depredation the Palestinians are suffering. In these times, with war looming against Iraq, it's time to stand up and be counted. Something has to be done now. It's a chance to make a difference."

* To help with supplies or support for the mission, call 01364-661115 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.