BEIT HANOUN is in the far north-eastern corner of Gaza Strip,
the population of which was c.32,000 when last surveyed in 2006. It
is estimated that 70-80 per cent of the dwellings here are
uninhabitable, and there is a real question as to whether it will
ever be possible to make it a viable community again.
Agricultural land and adjoining industrial areas are also ruined
by the Israeli bombing, razing to the ground such manifestly
dangerous targets as Gaza's only biscuit factory, and groves of
olive and citrus trees that had been tended for generations.
From here we came to Sujjaiya, a suburb of Gaza City, which
sustained some of the heaviest assaults of the summer's campaign.
This was, by far, the most shocking scene we beheld. Scarcely any
buildings were left standing on the eastern side of Sujjaiya.
High-rise blocks of flats, houses, industrial buildings, and
even a hospital lie in misshapen ruins, with signs of those who
simply have nowhere else to go sleeping in the remains of their
homes, or camping in tents adjacent to the rubble.
We met a group of young men, interested and surprised by our
visit, who spoke with horror of all they had experienced, and
disappointment at the utter lack of progress of any rebuilding
It may well be the case that rockets were fired from this area
into Israel; it may well be the case that among this particularly
impoverished part of Gaza there were militants; but there can also
be no doubt that the action taken against these threats to Israel
was undertaken without any regard at all for the vast majority of
innocent people trying to eke out their lives here in peace.
The following day we drove on to the Al-Ahli Hospital, in the
centre of Gaza City.
Founded by CMS, and for a while run by the Baptist Church, in
recent decades the hospital has been in the charge of the Anglican
diocese. Suheila Tarazi, its impressive director, introduced us to
Dr Maher Ayyad, the medical director (a surgeon trained at the
Hammersmith Hospital), and we were given a tour around the
The hospital provides a range of general medical care, and has
particular expertise in burns and orthopedic surgery (both in huge
demand since the war), as well as women's health and education.
It boasts a brand new building adjacent to its 19th-century
infrastructure, that, in time, is hoped to become the leading
centre for cancer treatment within Gaza (something severely lacking
in the Strip), provided funds can be raised.
We met selfless doctors and nurses, many of whom had homes
damaged or lost in the recent conflict, working flat out to cope
with the vastly increased pressure on the hospital. This is still
ongoing since the horrors of the summer. We also realised very
clearly that the hospital was a place of total integrity and
transparency, both financially and operationally, and that it had
high regard and respect, even from senior figures in Hamas.
Despite this, bombs had landed just across the street from it in
the summer, and we could see shrapnel marks defacing the otherwise
gleaming new cancer building.
Two truths impressed themselves profoundly on me. The first is
that Gaza has been separated from the world in utter physical and
economic isolation, in an act of gross punishment on a vast
population. It has no control of any border, and the fact that it
has had to dig tunnels into Egypt to obtain the kind of goods that
are taken for granted not merely in the West or in Israel, but even
in the West Bank, is an indication of how severe such punishment
The second is that I am utterly certain that if, in any other
political and geographical context, a different sovereign state
reacted to the rocket launching we have seen from Gaza to Israel by
causing death and destruction on a scale equivalent to any and all
of the last three assaults on Gaza, the world would have done more
than merely talk about war crimes. The scale of punishment of a
people - again - is immoral and disproportionate.