Think about the overwhelming, life and death battle being waged against the coronavirus in the U.S. and other countries that have sophisticated public health systems.
Then think about Gaza.
With the first cases of COVID-19 in Gaza confirmed on March 21, the prospect of an unimaginable humanitarian tragedy in Gaza became real. American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ) has launched an urgent appeal for support to help the leaders and staff at Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City make preparations to serve and care for its neighbors in the weeks and months to come.
More than 2.1 million people live in Gaza, a tiny strip of land is just 25 miles long and 7 miles across at its widest point. Gaza is one of the most densely populated places on earth. Its borders are closed, its sea coast blockaded. After years of war and conflict, much of Gaza remains in ruins. The sewage system is not functional, potable water is trucked in and electricity is on 3-4 hours a day. Poverty, food insecurity, record levels of unemployment and environmental degradation leave Gazans anxious, fearful and traumatized.
Life in Gaza already is precarious and dangerous. The people of Gaza are trapped. The presence of the coronavirus in this crowded, impoverished strip of land quickly will become a full-blown crisis.
The Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem’s Ahli Arab Hospital is on the front line in Gaza. Its director, Suhaila Tarazi, said last week, “Social distancing and isolation of the infected is impossible for most Gazans. Families are large, often confined to a few rooms and live in close quarters with neighbors. We are preparing as best we can. We are training our staff, bringing on additional staff and changing the hospital layout to accommodate COVID-19 cases.”
She continued, “We need protective clothing, respirator masks and equipment for staff, sanitizing supplies and triage tents. I thank all of our American friends for your help. Without your love and support we would be forced to close Ahli’s doors. Thank you for remembering us in Gaza. God’s blessing on you.”
The Diocese of Jerusalem owns and operates two charitable hospitals – Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza and St. Luke’s in the West Bank city of Nablus. Nablus, where COVID-19 cases are already confirmed, and other West Bank cities have been in lockdown for weeks.
St. Luke’s Director, Dr. Walid Kerry, said, “We are under a state of emergency in all Palestine due to coronavirus. We appeal to you our dear American friends to help St. Luke’s respond to a COVID-19 outbreak by providing care and treatment for the neediest coronavirus patients, and to enable us to get the needed medical equipment and supplies, medicines, protective gear and sterilization materials. We are a charity hospital and barely cover our costs in normal times.”
Suhaila and Walid are embodiments of Christian service. In a region where few Christians remain, they stand on our behalf, ready to do what they always do for the vulnerable Palestinians they serve. They will do what their faith asks of them. Continue to serve everyone, regardless of religion, nationality or ability to pay.
The Most Rev. Michael Curry, presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, has visited both Ahli and St. Luke’s in recent years. In a video encouraging Episcopalians to support AFEDJ’s appeal, he said, “The body of Christ knows no boundaries, no borders, no race or clan or stripe, for all are one in Christ…It is out of concern for each other, as fellow children of God, that AFEDJ seeks to raise funds…These hospitals provide ministry and service and care for God’s children and they need our support.”
Please help American Friends send a strong message to Suhaila and Walid and their teams that their brothers and sisters in America stand with them as they prepare to bravely confront this pandemic. Donations may be made online at www.afedj.org.
Bishop Michael Curry’s video is available here and included below.