CHRISTIAN communities around the world have responded to the war in Gaza with spiritual and material support for the hundreds of civilian victims. The paralysis of the international community, the images of suffering, and the targeting of Christian-funded institutions in Gaza have galvanised the church response.
The world has been slow to recognise that this is a conflict in which one party has overwhelming military strength, and the other, despite its military weakness, is determined to resist, no matter how many civilians are killed. The failure of the United Nations’ call for a ceasefire reflects the fact that Hamas was not a party to the diplomatic process.
Israel insists that it has a right to continue the assault on Gaza until Hamas is no longer able to fire rockets into Israeli towns. It accuses Hamas of establishing military positions in densely populated districts, which explains the high number of civilian casualties.
Hamas says it will accept a truce only when the Israeli attack stops and the blockade of the Gaza Strip is lifted. It accuses Israel of indiscriminate bombardment.
During the past week, two medical facilities run by Christian groups in Gaza have been destroyed after apparently being targeted by Israeli fighter aircraft. No one was killed in the attacks. The first to be hit was a clinic run by Caritas in the al-Maghazi district of Gaza City. The blast damaged more than 20 homes.
The Roman Catholic parish priest of Gaza, Fr Manuel Musallam, said there was “extreme fear everywhere here. . . Night and day, the sound of children crying is everywhere. The people here don’t sleep. They have lost everything.”
The second medical facility to be destroyed was a primary health-care centre in the Shuja’iya area of Gaza City, funded by Christian Aid and run by the Near East Council of Churches (NECC) Committee for Refugee Work. The owners of the building received a telephone warning to evacuate it within 15 minutes. It was then hit by missiles fired from an Israeli jet.
Constantine Dabbagh, executive director of the NECC, said: “The world needs to wake up and stop this. Otherwise this bloody atmosphere will continue. The responsibility of the superpowers, including the US and Britain, is to stop these horrors.”
The Church in Wales funds a mobile dental clinic that operated out of the Shuja’iya health centre. The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, has written to the Israeli Ambassador in London to ask why the clinic was hit. “We find it incomprehensible and tragic,” he said.
Israel has not reacted specifically to the destruction of the two church-funded clinics, but the Public Security Minister, Avi Dichter, accused Hamas commanders of taking refuge in hospitals and schools.
Much of the Anglican focus has been on providing help for the Ahli Arab Hospital. The hospital is receiving up to 40 new patients each day, many of whom need surgery. Patients from other health centres that cannot cope with the casualties are also being sent to the Ahli.
“The hospital is short of fuel, which is required to continue operating the electrical generator because little electricity is available in Gaza,” the statement said. Shattered windows are being covered with plastic rubbish bags to try to keep out the cold; and there is an “increasingly desperate” need for food. “Our efforts at this time are focused on providing nutritional supplements for the most vulnerable people.”
Most banks have run out of cash, and Christian groups worldwide have been seeking to send cash to the Episcopal diocesan office in Jerusalem to buy essential items that can be sent into Gaza during the truce-periods allowed by Israel.
There has been a widespread response to an urgent appeal by the Bishop in Jerusalem, the Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, for funds for the Ahli hospital. Southwell Minster, for example, has started a collection to help Palestinians in Gaza to cope with “the dreadful situation unfolding before our eyes”.
The Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal has donated £25,000 to Ahli Hospital. BibleLands has given £10,000. The money will be used to buy supplies to be taken into Gaza by truck. “It is impossible for us to imagine the extent of the crisis in Gaza,” Nigel Edwards-Few, chief executive of BibleLands, said.
The Bishop of Manchester, the Rt Revd Nigel McCulloch, speaking on behalf of the Council of Christians and Jews, has called for “a cessation of the missile attacks on Israel and an end to all violence. . . The only path to resolving the conflict in the long term is the one that embraces dialogue and co-existence, and all parties, including Hamas, must appreciate this.”
Muhammad Abdul Bari, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that there was an urgent need for “a political solution that ensures an end to the siege of Gaza, a reopening of all border crossings, and an end to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land”.
There is general agreement among humanitarian workers in Gaza that the three-hour daily truce is not long enough. Ahmed Sourani, of the Palestinian Agricultural Relief Services, says: “Not all the injured can be reached in this time, particularly those in remote areas. They can’t be reached by ambulances and doctors. It is a terrifying humanitarian issue.”
The Zionist International Christian Embassy in Jerusalem has been working with Israeli groups to help civilians in the towns under Palestinian rocket attack.
In Israel, support for the war remains broadly strong. Avigdor Lieberman, a politician on the far-Right, said: “We must continue to fight Hamas, just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II. Then, too, the occupation of the country was unnecessary.”
But increasing concern is being expressed at the damage being done to Israel’s reputation abroad. The daily Haaretz said that even those foreign diplomats who were sympathetic to the aims of the war were warning that its scope and duration were causing long-term harm to Israel’s image.
Relief reaches hospital. On Wednesday the Al Ahli Hospital, run by the diocese of Jerusalem, was coping with yet more injured residents of Gaza City, among them Mohan’nad, a nine-year-old boy whose leg was badly injured when a building near his home was damaged. The hospital reports that doctors and staff were able to save his leg.
But the day also saw the arrival of several trucks filled with medicines, medical supplies, blankets, and food, which arrived in convoys coordinated by UNRWA. The hospital described the supplies as “a huge boost to the hospital’s ability to continue its urgent humanitarian mission of medical care for anyone in need, even under the current dire circumstances”.
The supplies came from a number of partners, among them US AID, the several members of Action by Churches Together International; and dozens of churches, agencies, and individuals around the world.
The Rt Revd Suheil Dawani, Bishop in Jerusalem, said: “We are so grateful for the immediate and exceptionally generous response in prayers and monetary gifts. . . You can rest assured that we are doing all that is humanly possible under these most complex and difficult circumstances to insure the safety and wellbeing of the hospital and its staff.”
He reported that diocesan funds were being made available, so that the hospital would be able to treat injured patients free of charge.
The hospital reports that its staff, although fatigued, remains in good spirits: “Knowing that there are people who care for them and support them brings comfort and sustenance in these difficult days.”
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