[Episcopal News Service] Archbishop Hosam Naoum, the top Anglican leader in the Middle East, joined Presiding Bishop Michael Curry for a webinar Nov. 21 in which he described dire conditions amid the Israel-Hamas war while thanking Episcopalians for their prayers and support.
“What we’re going through is something that I don’t wish any person or nation to go through,” Naoum said in the Zoom session, hosted by The Episcopal Church’s Office of Government Relations. “What is happening here is absolutely devastating. … My heart personally has been absolutely broken to see so much suffering and death within this area, within the country.”
Israel declared war on Hamas after the militant group attacked and raided Jewish communities in southern Israel, killing an estimated 1,400 people and taking about 200 hostages back to Hamas’ stronghold in Gaza. Israel responded by launching an intense and prolonged aerial bombardment followed by a ground invasion of Gaza that has killed more than 13,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.
Also on Nov. 21, Israeli and Hamas leaders indicated they may be close to agreeing to at least a limited cease-fire after six weeks of fighting.
Naoum is the bishop of the Diocese of Jerusalem and the primate of the larger Anglican province that includes Jerusalem, Israel and the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank. The Diocese of Jerusalem’s ministries include schools and hospitals open to people of all faiths, and its Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City has been on the front lines of the humanitarian response to the crisis in the territory.
“In the last week, specifically, it has been the hardest,” Naoum said, referring to a period in which the Israeli military had surrounded Gaza City and was conducting a slow search for Hamas leaders and gunmen while probing their suspected hideouts in tunnels under the city.
Israeli tanks reached Ahli Arab Hospital five days ago, Naoum said, and “for one day, no one from the staff of the hospital could go out or come in.” The hospital employs 35 doctors and nurses, and it is serving more than 100 patients and their relatives at the compound.
Israel’s siege of Gaza, after Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, cut the territory off from the normal flow of essential supplies, include food, water and fuel, and the 22 hospitals in norther Gaza have struggled to continue serving patients caught up in the escalating violence. Naoum said Ahli now is the only hospital in northern Gaza still able to provide medical care, and without additional emergency supplies, he worried that the hospital would not be able to continue operating more than another week.
At the same time, Naoum thanked all who have donated to relief organizations and to the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, to support Ahli Hospital and the diocese’s other ministries.
“I’m forever grateful for so many prayers and so much support that we have been receiving,” Naoum said, and he invoked the ideal of Jerusalem as a holy city for all the major religions in the region. “Jerusalem is a desire for peace and reconciliation. … As children of God, as children of Abraham, we have to learn from these difficult lessons and even deadly lessons, to look for a brighter future for all our children.”
Curry had issued a written statement on Nov. 7 condemning the violence and urging an end to the killing on all sides. He echoed that statement in remarks during the webinar with Naoum, saying Episcopalians can raise their own voices in support of peace.
“Stop the killing,” Curry said. “Stop the killing of Palestinians, of Israelis, of children. … And then bring everyone to the table of peace.”
– David Paulsen is a senior reporter and editor for Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at email@example.com.