Update from Gaza: Al-Ahli Arab Hospital

Update from Gaza: Al-Ahli Arab Hospital

Action by Churches Together Gaza Update: Al-Ahli Arab Hospital

Action by Churches Together Update from Gaza: Al-Ahli Hospital under fire

By Andrew Hogg

JERUSALEM, 10 February 2009–The air strikes and the shooting have stopped, and the troops and tanks have fallen back across the border, but like many people in the Gaza Strip, Suhaila Tarazi can’t quite believe that the violence has ended.

At the hospital where she is director, life is slowly returning to what passes as normal in a health facility where, because of Israel’s blockade of the strip, supplies are always short.

There are blast marks on a wall from a shell, bullet holes in the roof and plastic instead of glass in a number of windows. But the flow of new admissions is back to manageable proportions from the 20-40 wounded who arrived daily during Israel’s 22-day incursion into Gaza.

More than 40 percent were women and children – mainly suffering from shrapnel wounds. Miraculously most survived, but not all.

Tarazi is visibly moved as she recalls a six-year-old boy who bled to death after being hit by shell fragments close to his school.

Medicines, laboratory agents and fuel all remain in short supply at the 50-bed Al Ahli Arab Hospital, hospital, run by the Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem and supported by members of the ACT International alliance.

But Ms Tarazi remains undaunted. “Our philosophy is to provide health care without discrimination of religion, gender, political affiliation and social class,” she says. “All patients are equal.

That’s the church’s mission, to help the needy without differences.

“Every moment for 24 hours of each day during the war it was a challenge for us. Thank God we could do something.

“But it was a real massacre in Gaza. Our homes were not safe, the hospital was not safe, the schools were not safe, the streets were not safe. The fear they have put in the hearts of the children – it’s not easy to forgive but we have to. We just hope this will stop, that peace and justice will prevail.

“All of us are really traumatised in some way or other. We need time to restore our normal spirit. If a door slams, you see the fear in our faces.”

The hospital, in the heart of Gaza City, is the oldest on the strip, dating back more than 100 years. A light, airy British colonial style building, it boasts some 18 doctors, 45 nurses and

12 technicians.

As well as medicine and general surgery, it offers paediatrics, urology, orthopaedics, X-rays, coronary care, specialist burns care, screening for breast cancer, and free food for the elderly, particularly women.

Financial support comes from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) which pays for the treatment of some cases, to the tune of US $90 per patient per day. The patient is expected to contribute a further US $10. Outpatients are also expected to pay a token amount and donations of services, supplies and cash are always welcome.

“Even before the incursion, the siege affected us greatly,” says Ms Tarazi, referring to the severe limits Israel has placed on the imports of food, medicine and other essential supplies such as industrial and agricultural parts into Gaza since Hamas took over the strip in 2007.

“We were already unable to get medical supplies in times of want, and could not refer patients to hospitals outside Gaza – so many have lost their lives while waiting for a permit.

“Fuel was short. The power station could not supply electricity

24 hours a day because of restrictions on fuel. A hospital without electricity is just a building. We have a generator but a generator without fuel is no good. This means we have had to minimise the number of days we offer operations to three days a week.”

The shortages that existed before the incursion still exist today, but during the incursion, matters got worse.

“During the fighting there was no electricity in Gaza,” said Ms Tarazi. “We ran short of food for our patients, and medical supplies. Supplies of drinking water also ran out, so we had to boil water from the tap. Even so, it was very salty.

“The building shook and shook from the shelling, and glass in many of the windows shattered, so for ten days, until we get hold of some plastic, we had no protection from the weather. We ran out of blankets and during the cold weather with the windows blown out it was freezing.

“Because of heavy attacks in nearby neighbourhoods, families came to the hospital to be with their relatives – to have the hospital as a place of refuge. It was a burden, especially for food.

“And our X-ray machine stopped working, so we had to take the X-rays here and run to another hospital to develop them. We also acted as a referral hospital for serious cases from other hospitals in the city.”

Tarazi, who in 1985 was recommended by ACT member Christian Aid to the British Council for a scholarship to Leeds University to study health planning and management, paid tribute to ACT International and its members for their support.

“They have done their best to help us get food and medical supplies. We are also grateful to CARE International and UNRWA.”


ACT members Department of Service to Palestinian Refugees (DSPR), East Jerusalem Young Men Christian Association (YMCA), DanChurchAid (DCA), International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) and Norwegian Church Aid (NCA) are working together under a joint ACT appeal.  The United Church of Christ and Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) are members and support this appeal through One Great Hour of Sharing and Week of Compassion.  Click on the links to contribute.