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Update on St Philip's Church & Ahli Arab Hospital, Gaza

Posted on: April 14, 2003 2:36 PM
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[Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem] St Philip's Chapel remains in shambles more than two months after Israeli soldiers bombed the church in the Al Ahli Arab Hospital complex, with repairs estimated at some US$25,000. However, hospital officials already have repaired windows of surrounding hospital buildings, and donations for church repairs keep coming.

It's all a matter of picking up the pieces - a process that the hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, knows only too well in this war-torn region.

"We are grateful to all our friends who keep praying for us and who also give us a hand of help," said hospital director, Suhaila Tarazi. "Hand in hand, we will continue to do God's work in this area."

Every day, the hospital contends with Intifada-related violence and military checkpoints as it aims to serve Gaza residents, Suhaila Tarazi said. Fears of a full-scale Israeli invasion on the Gaza Strip have not been realised, but neither has the situation improved, according to hospital officials.

Invasions in specific parts of Gaza regularly continue to cause problems for hospital staff. An invasion in the southern part of the Gaza Strip last week caused some workers to be three hours late for work, as they had to drive through increased military checkpoints. Even social worker Mohammed Al Naqa, who leaves his home every morning at 4:30, arrived at work one hour late at 8am.

The conflict also has affected the hospital's mobile outreach clinics, which serve outlying villages. Some villages, such as Al Mawasi, are bordered by Israeli settlements, so Israeli soldiers have particularly tight restrictions. Many times, people cannot leave their villages for several days even to buy food, so residents must live on tomatoes that grow in their area.

Soldiers will not allow Al Ahli Arab Hospital to drive ambulances into these places, so hospital staff members have started picking up patients outside the villages instead for its mobile outreach clinics. The clinics mainly help women because most men are not allowed to leave their villages. These medical missions have helped hundreds of patients, and the hospital conducted three missions in February alone.

This month, the hospital hopes to conduct two missions for camps near Beit Hanoun, a north Gaza village that has suffered major damages from recent Israeli attacks.

Suhaila Tarazi said she offered to give toys to children at the clinics, but the mothers would hear nothing of it. It is not a major priority on their list of needs, she explained. Still, the clinics provide children with sandwiches, and they provide families with rice and other dry goods.

"We try our best to put a smile on a kid in a very dark place," Suhaila Tarazi said.

Doctors deal with dark realities on a daily basis, often treating people with conflict-related wounds. Like the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, officials at Al Ahli Arab Hospital condemn violence on all sides and seek peace and justice for all Holy Land residents.

Regional violence has kept the hospital from using international volunteers as it has in the past. However, Suhaila Tarazi said she hopes to start using volunteers again by the middle of this year. A plastic surgeon already has made plans to come before the year's end.

Other needs include orthopaedics equipment, surgical equipment for emergency procedures and more midwives on staff. Suhaila Tarazi said she hopes to train 12 staff nurses in midwifery, offering a three-month course that would accommodate three staff nurses at a time. The midwives are greatly in need in Gaza, she said. However, the hospital needs US$10,000 to US$12,000 per year to run such a program.

The hospital also wants to start a course that would train staff to adopt the hospital's treatment methods. Suhaila Tarazi noted that the hospital's multinational staff has learned a variety of methods of treatment, but Al Ahli Arab Hospital uses American methods.

In addition, the hospital must raise at least US$25,000 for repairs to St Philip's Hospital and US$160,000 to purchase a new X-ray machine after the church bombing in January destroyed an X-ray machine they used in a nearby hospital room.

During the early morning hours of January 24, Israeli soldiers fired an American-made, remote-controlled, guided Tau missile at the church. The missile damaged the chapel's roof and put a hole in the ground next to the altar. It also shattered the church's stained glass, dating back to the turn of the century, and broke glass in several buildings throughout the hospital.

Though no one suffered direct injuries from the bombing, one elderly female hospital patient died of a heart attack because of a fear of the nearby explosions. Israeli military officials have not issued an apology for the incident.

The church has not had a full-time priest in recent years because no Anglican priest has been able to get an Israeli permit required to serve there. However, the 13 Christians out of the 103 full-time staff members used to meet in the chapel every morning for prayer times. St Philip's had undergone renovations only seven years ago.

"You can't imagine how much time it took to collect money to repair this church...mostly from individual donors," Suhaila Tarazi said.

Despite such frustrations, the hospital carries on. The Christians now meet in the administration offices for prayers and hospital employees continue to persevere, hoping for a day when better things will come for the Gaza Strip.

"This is the situation, but we believe and pray that one day there will be peace in all this area and in the Middle East," Suhaila Tarazi said.