[Episcopal News Service] Anglican leaders are joining a global chorus of alarm at a growing humanitarian crisis in Gazathat is threatening the operations of hospitals there, including an Anglican hospital, as Israel prepares a likely invasion of the Palestinian territory in response to Hamas’ surprise attack this month.
Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza, massacred hundreds of Israelis and took at least 150 hostages in a coordinated attack Oct. 7 on Israeli communities. The surprise attack has ignited a new war with Israel, which launched airstrikes on Gaza and deployed soldiers to the territory’s northern border. More than 1,400 Israelis and more than 2,750 Palestinians have reportedly been killed.
The Al Ahli Arab Hospital is one of 22 hospitals in northern Gaza struggling to respond to the volatile situation. Late on Oct. 12, Israel’s military ordered the evacuation of the northern end of the territory, including Gaza City, as a precursor to sending in soldiers to neutralize Hamas. The evacuation order, however, has created chaos and panic among the more than 2 million Palestinians in Gaza, one of the most densely populated places in the world. Hospitals have pleaded for the ability to remain open to treat the victims of the ongoing violence.
The Ahli hospital, operated by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, was damaged by Israeli rocket fire late Oct. 14, and four staff members were injured, according to a statement from Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby.
“Hospitals and patients in Gaza are in grave danger,” Welby said. “The seriously ill and injured patients at the Anglican-run Ahli Hospital – and other healthcare facilities in northern Gaza – cannot be safely evacuated. They are running low on medical supplies. They are facing catastrophe. …
“I appeal for the evacuation order on hospitals in northern Gaza to be reversed – and for health facilities, health workers, patients and civilians to be protected. The evil and barbaric terror attacks on Israelis by Hamas were a blasphemous outrage. But the civilians of Gaza are not responsible for the crimes of Hamas.”
Gaza, a seaside strip of land totaling 140 square miles on the Egypt and Israel borders, has suffered under an Israeli blockade that has been supported by Egypt since 2007, when Hamas took control of the territory. It had been under military occupation by Israel since the Arab-Israeli war of 1967, in which Israel fended off an attack by neighboring Arab nations and took control of Gaza, the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.
Many of the Palestinians now living in Gaza are refugees or descendants of refugees from the hostilities between Arabs and Jews around the time of the 1948 creation of the nation of Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust. As tensions that year between Arabs and Israelis escalated into war, Palestinian families in Israel were uprooted from their homes and never allowed to return in what is known in Arabic as “Al Nakba,” or “The Catastrophe.”
In recent years, periodic violence has erupted between Hamas and Israel, including an 11-day war in 2021 that killed 248 Palestinians and 12 Israelis. After Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, Israel vowed a total siege of Gaza, cutting off the flow of food, water, electricity and fuel to the territory.
Now, hospitals in Gaza say they have no way to evacuate patients safely in response to Israel’s orders. “There is nowhere in Gaza that can accept the number of patients in our intensive care unit or neonatal intensive care unit or even the operating rooms,” Dr. Muhammad Abu Salima, director of Al Shifa Hospital, told The New York Times.
On Oct. 14, the World Health Organization warned that evacuation of hospitals in northern Gaza would be “tantamount to a death sentence” for the sick and injured.
The Diocese of Jerusalem, which is part of the Anglican province in the region, has partnered with Episcopal Relief & Development to provide emergency support in Gaza, including recruitment of additional staff and procurement of needed medicines, equipment, fuel and food.
“Al Ahli Hospital is committed to continuing to provide 24/7 health services for all people in need of medical care,” Suhaila Tarazi, the Anglican hospital’s director, said Oct. 12 in an Episcopal Relief & Development news release. “The role of Al Ahli Hospital could be highly significant in saving lives during emergencies and in eliminating the gap in the healthcare system.”
Episcopal leaders also are encouraging Episcopalians to donate to American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem, which supports the Ahli hospital.
“The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem is in active engagement in ministry across the Holy Land, with a mandate not to align with a political agenda, but to serve Christian, Jew and Muslim alike through hospitals and schools and shelters, and at no cost,” the bishops of the Diocese of New York said in an Oct. 15 message.
The Most Rev. Hosam Naoum, Anglican primate of the province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, canceled a planned trip to Virginia Theological Seminary because of the violence but participated in a livestreamed event hosted by the Episcopal seminary on Oct. 13.
“The hospital is going through a very difficult time,” Naoum said. “Unfortunately, the hospital is running on very low fuel, when it comes to supplies, food, water, electricity. But at the same time, the hospital has been a wonderful witness at this very dark time. The hospital is [treating] all sorts of surgeries and injuries, especially our burn unit, and the other units in the hospital are doing significant work of health and health care at this time.”
Naoum also released a letter calling for participation Oct. 17 in a day of prayer and fasting organized by the 13 Christian denominations in the Holy Land to promote peace and reconciliation.
“We pray without ceasing for justice, reconciliation, peace and an end to hatred and war,” Naoum said in his Oct. 14 letter. “We also pray for God to change the hearts of all leaders and decision-makers in our countries and around the world, for we are in dire need of hearts that love, show mercy and are willing to live in unity with others – hearts that respect human dignity and choose life rather than death.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.