By Marinella Bandini
On the evening of Tuesday, Oct. 17, the day Christian communities in the Holy Land had dedicated to prayer and fasting for peace, an explosion went off at the Anglican hospital “Al Ahli” in Gaza, killing hundreds of civilians.
The bombing sent a shockwave through communities who had prayed throughout the day and ignited anger throughout the Middle East and across the world.
Approximately 500 people lost their lives in the explosion, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. As a hospital, the location was supposed to be protected by international law, and hundreds of people had found refuge there over the past week.
Immediately, the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, led by Bishop Hosam Naum, issued a note condemning this “atrocious attack” in the heart of Gaza, where the hospital has been providing protection and care to the population for more than 120 years and is internationally recognized as a reliable and “super partes” (neutral) institution.
A strong appeal was made by the Episcopal Church for a unanimous international condemnation and for the international community to commit to protecting civilians and ensuring that such “inhumane horrific acts” are not repeated.
On Wednesday, Oct. 18, the Patriarchs and Heads of the Churches in Jerusalem issued a statement and convened a press conference in Jerusalem to condemn the “criminal attack” and call, once again, “for justice, peace, and the cessation of the suffering that has descended upon the people of Gaza.”
During the press conference, the message of the Heads of the Churches was conveyed through the voice of Anglican Bishop Hosam Naum.
“We stand together in condemning this dreadful and devastating massacre, and we regard it as a crime against humanity. A sanctuary, a place that was meant to be a place of prayer, and a place of healing, turned into the scene of a very horrific massacre for our people in Gaza,” he said.
Only shortly before, the bishop recounted, “people who are civilians who were gathered in the courtyard were singing for peace and the children were playing. Why did this happen? Why, just two hours later, were they struck down by death?”
Just two weeks ago, Naum had visited the facility for new projects to be implemented together with the Lutheran World Federation, after the recent opening of the chemotherapy service. Three days ago, the hospital was hit by two rockets. One damaged the fourth floor and the roof of the new diagnostic center. The other hit the ultrasound and mammography room on the second floor. The hospital, the bishop reported, received “three evacuation warnings” from the Israeli side, “on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday,” but yesterday, he said, “I am not aware of any.”
After an initial emergency evacuation, the hospital is back in operation.
“The hospital will continue to be open,” the bishop emphasized, while also not hiding the dramatic situation due to a lack of supplies. “They’re running out of water and supplies.”
“We are determined — not only the Anglican Church, but all the churches — we are determined to keep our institutions open, to keep our places of worship, our churches, open as places of refuge, especially to those who are disadvantaged.”
Naum was not drawn by journalists’ questions to place blame for the explosion on one side or the other. “We are not military people to decide [what happened]. We are not journalists to analyze; we are not politicians to decide [what to do],” he said. “What we are saying here is that what happened in the hospital is a crime. Let there be an end to the violence and let there be a just and lasting peace.”
The Anglican bishop consistently reiterated the message: “As heads of the churches, we have said very clear that we are against any violence against any civilians or innocent people on any side of the divide. Let people see what is happening, even beyond the hospital, and they will draw the conclusion that enough with this war, enough with these lives that have been lost on both sides,” he said at the press conference.
Wednesday was also the day U.S. President Joe Biden arrived in Tel Aviv. The president reiterated full support for Israel but also affirmed that the solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be the two-state solution.
“What I expect from President Biden and every world leader,” the Anglican bishop said in explicit response to a question, “is that they stand for peace and justice in this land, to end the conflict, in accordance with U.N. resolutions and international law. We want them to be a voice for peace and reconciliation, for the sake of everybody — Israelis and Palestinians.”
Naum also confirmed the willingness of all the churches of the Holy Land to face every challenge together and to share every step.