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St Philip's Church and Ahli Arab Hospital sustains direct hit by guided missile

Posted on: January 26, 2003 3:06 PM
Photo Credit: Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem
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Urgent Call for Prayer

There is broken glass everywhere; on the floors, covering the tables, covering papers, on beds. The Christian leaders of Gaza have gathered to offer their support and condemn the bombing of St. Philip's Episcopal Church, located within the Ahli Arab Hospital compound. The Church is in the center of the hospital complex, and surrounded by buildings flying the Red Cross and Anglican flags. All day a steady flow of friends and visitors came to say 'Illhamdillah Salameh', 'thank God you are safe.'

At about 2:15am last night, Dr. Salah, Ahli Arab Hospital's physician on call, awoke to the sound of an explosion in the distance. The next explosion was nearer and louder, and the electricity failed. Within the next few minutes he saw the distinctive light of a missile approaching. As he lay in his third floor bed, he watched as the missile passed within 10 meters of his head and hit St. Philip's Church. It came slowly, and he describes 'the storm of wind and glass passing like a train through his bedroom'. There was glass everywhere; in his bed, in his hair, covering the floor.

An elderly woman had arrived at the emergency room, just prior to the attack. She came because she was terrified, and was suffering from high blood pressure. The doctor began to examine her and just then the missile hit next door, and throwing him to the ground. It took a few minutes for the electrical generator to come on, and by the time he was able to get to her, she had died. 'She died of fear.'

Built at the turn of the last century, St. Philip's Episcopal Church was reconsecrated in 1996, by Bishops Samir Kafity and Riah Abu El-Assal, in the presence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. George Carey; The Presiding Bishop of the US, Edmund Browning, and thirty-four other Primates of the Anglican Communion, along with President Arafat. It's century old stained class windows were shattered, and crystal from it's chandeliers littered the floor. The missile entered through the roof, and left a meter wide hole in the floor. The altar was covered with plaster and a nearby hymnal pierced with shrapnel. Suhaila Tarazi, Ahli director, said 'we collected money from so many individuals who supported the renovation of the Church, and in a minute it is gone.' The building was structurally reinforced with the remodeling, but it is an old building, and the walls showed numerous deep cracks.

The destruction did not stop with the Church. The Pediatric Clinics were damaged as well, with the collapse of the false ceiling and ventilation system. Throughout the hospital; the physical therapy building, the staff accommodations, the laboratory, medical records, the morgue, the library – glass littered the floors, windows were broken, doors separated from their frames by the force of the blast. The damage to the hospital is extensive, and many more old buildings showed structural cracks. Boys from the neighborhood collected shrapnel.

Everyone at the Hospital today spoke about why this happened. No one could imagine it was an accident. The area surrounding the Church was covered with the wire filaments that come from guided missiles. Hospital employees pointed out that they are nowhere near other apartment buildings, government or military facilities. Consensus was that this was a precisely targeted attack, how could it be otherwise? Apache helicopters had not only fired the missile, they had returned to film the results of their attack. These were shown on early morning Israeli television.

Dr Salah continued, 'Ahli Arab Hospital is like a small family, we all feel connected. I have been through so many attacks, but never imagined our hospital would be hit, or the Church. It is a holy place. We are strong, we will survive. The hospital is running and it is going to continue to run for a long time.'

Dr Nabila, an internist, is Ahli's only female physician. Last night tanks surrounded her family's four story apartment building. They were given five minutes to evacuate, leaving with only the nightclothes they wore. The entire neighborhood was evacuated. Those who specialize in destruction then entered to plant vacuum bombs, which destroyed the building with such force that cement blocks are scattered over a kilometer. Today the streets are filled with neighbors and friends who are staring at the destruction, while children gather to look.

Suhaila Tarazi moved through the different buildings of the hospital, shaking hands, accepting words of support from the steady stream of visitors, staff and neighbors. 'God forgive them they do not know what they are doing. I will repeat the words of Jesus on the day he was crucified. Despite this we will continue our mission of love and peace to all people. I call upon our friends, all over the world, to keep us in your prayers and help us to overcome this tragedy. To work hard with us, because I am sure that one day peace will prevail.'

For further information, please contact:
Nancy Dinsmore
Development Office
Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem