NO WORDS can make sense of the bombing of the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza on Tuesday. It was a senseless act, inaccessible to any argument, debate, or justification. The fact that an Anglican foundation was hit makes no difference to the horror, except that we can attest that the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital opened its doors to everyone in need of medical assistance, regardless of nationality or faith — and latterly to hundreds of terrified refugees, whose belief in the protection that it might offer from attack was tragically misplaced. The missile that struck the hospital on Saturday and injured four staff members acted as a warning to the estimated 6000 people sheltering there, and about 5000 left. It ought also to have acted as a warning to the Israeli military of the danger of hitting innocent civilian targets in their devastating bombardment of Gaza. At the time of writing, the Israeli authorities have been firm in their denial of responsibility — which, sadly for their credibility, is almost always now the reaction of anyone guilty of an atrocity. At the end of ten days of pounding Gaza with high explosives, and after warning 22 hospitals in Gaza that they were at risk of attack, they cannot be surprised to be blamed, even if the explosion turns out to have been an error. The same goes, of course, for Hamas or Islamic Jihad: they are not organisations from which one expects honesty about incidents of so-called friendly fire, and the terrorist attacks a fortnight ago have left them with no plausibility.
Among the scenes after the explosion were images of a hospital staff member directing the injured, while wearing a heavy bandage on his head. The dedication of the medical staff throughout Gaza has been exemplary, as they minister in what the Israeli bombardment has turned into field hospitals, and deal with wartime injuries and wartime shortages of supplies. News feeds that censor the worst images none the less show the desperation of patients, relatives, and staff, as severely injured men, women, and children await treatment in bloodstained corridors. We cannot praise the medical staff too much for their determination to help the sick and injured in whatever limited ways they can in the face of such personal danger.
One might hope that such an incident would bring people to their senses, alerting both Hamas and the Israeli government to the inevitable loss of civilian life caused by conducting a war in so small and so heavily populated a space. Instead of softening hearts, though, it seems to have hardened them, sabotaging US attempts at brokering some sort of negotiation and prompting a round of belligerent condemnation from surrounding countries. The denials of responsibility for the bombing by both sides mean that both can shrug off any responsibility for finding a solution to the crisis that can remove the threat of death and injury from the innocent people who have seen their homes turned into a war zone.