Gaza: 'Scale of destruction is shocking'

by
17 October 2014

Dominic Barrington is Rector of St Peter and St Paul, Kettering. He visited Gaza last week at the invitation of the diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East

DOMINIC BARRINGTON

Wheelchair: the ruins of a hospital in Gaza;

Wheelchair: the ruins of a hospital in Gaza;

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 plans.

 

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 hospital's facilities.

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 is.

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.

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