Just two weeks ago, Rt Rev Graham Usher, Bishop of Norwich, visited the Christian-run Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza, where hundreds of Palestinians were last night killed in an explosion. As tensions in the region mount, he says the innocent should not pay for the crimes of Hamas
“Our mission is love”, remarked Suhaila Tarzai, the chief administrator of the Christian-run Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City. That was just three days before the Hamas atrocities in Southern Israel.
I was with Suhaila, a Palestinian woman in her 60s with a broad, compassionate smile, in the meeting room of the hospital enjoying a lunch of hummus and falafel with her senior team. She is one of the 1,000 or so Palestinian Christians left in Gaza.
I had travelled there with Most Rev Hosam Naoum, another Palestinian Christian and the Bishop of Jerusalem, to see the incredible work of this 80-bed hospital. I was given a pink ribbon to mark breast cancer awareness week and saw their new cancer diagnostic facilities.
At this stage, our only hope is in God for a miracle
Suhaila’s eyes sparkled with pride as she showed us around. The Ahli Arab Hospital serves the poorest of the poor in that narrow strip of land containing 2.1 million people, half of whom are children.
A Christian foundation
She explained how the hospital was founded in 1882 by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) and, not being politically aligned, is seen as a neutral, trusted and safe place. They run clinics for underweight children and provide therapy for those who have faced trauma.
After touring other parts of the hospital, including seeing seriously ill patients, we gathered with the staff, both Christians and Muslims, to pray in St Philip’s Episcopal Church, sited in the hospital grounds. Philip who, in Acts 8, was recorded as being on the road to Gaza when he met and baptised an Ethiopian eunuch.
The hospital is built on the Roman ruins of Gaza and ancient pillars pop up here and there; a visible reminder of the history of this land which has long been fought over.
Suhaila and I turned to funding and she commented, with a shrug of her shoulders, “Funds are running low. Donors give when Gaza is in the headlines and there has been a long period of relative peace.”
That would soon change.
The following day, I visited a wetland rewilding project in the Jordan valley with some Israeli friends. As a UK patron of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, I am proud of all that that organisation is doing, including in partnership with the Jordanians, along that critical bird migration route. The scenery was wonderful and the bird life spectacular. My friendships spread across the people of that region.
Hours later, life would change for us all.
Since then, I have been in touch with both Palestinian and Israeli friends. On Saturday I attended the shabbat service in Norwich to be with the Jewish community; a service with much grief, as well as anxiety about antisemitic reprisals.
Later that day, I heard that an Israeli rocket had hit the Ahli Arab Hospital, significantly damaging the cancer diagnostic centre and injuring four members of staff. Suhaila’s spotlessly clean hospital is now covered in dust and debris.
The innocent should not pay for the crimes of Hamas
Last week the medical director’s home was partially destroyed by another missile. 5,000 people had come to the hospital compound to seek sanctuary. And the hospital is now overflowing with injured civilians. Many are too ill to move south following the Israeli order to evacuate.
Suhaila writes: “At this stage, our only hope is in God for a miracle in the midst of this scenery of death. There is no water, no electricity, no food, no fuel reserves and no safe place to shelter. The wards of Ahli are full with injured patients. We are trying to help as much as we can.”
Praying for peace
As each day goes by, I am increasingly horrified by the situation that continues to escalate in Israel and Gaza. The atrocities committed by Hamas against the Israelis are utterly abhorrent and their crimes are sickening. Now, I fear a huge humanitarian disaster for innocent Palestinians in Gaza when Israel mounts its ground offensive.
The international community must stretch every muscle to establish a humanitarian corridor and get aid into Gaza.
So, what can we as Christians do?
- Pray earnestly for an end to violence. “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee” (Psalm 122).
- Don’t divide people in this war. No one’s blood is redder than anyone else’s. This Christian Aid prayer has long resonated with me: “Pray not for Arab or Jew, for Palestinian or Israeli, but pray rather for ourselves, that we might not divide them in our prayers but keep them both together in our hearts.”
- Be a peacemaker and peacekeeper. The Israeli poet, Yehuda Amichai, put it this way in ‘An Isaiah Appendix’: “Don’t stop after beating the swords into plowshares, don’t stop! / Go on beating and make musical instruments out of them. / Whoever wants to make war again will have to turn them into plowshares first.”
- Write to the UK Prime Minister reminding him of the pain of all people in this conflict and urging him to work for an urgent humanitarian corridor and aid to Gaza.
- Give generously. Perhaps to an international aid organisation, or if you would like to give to the Ahli Arab Hospital, you can do so here