An explosion at an Anglican-operated hospital in the Gaza Strip has led to finger pointing and dueling statements from both political and religious officials. Least among these concerns – but still relevant to this blog – is the Al-Ahli Hospital Anglican or Baptist?
Both traditions have stewarded the historic hospital, founded by the Church of England’s Church Mission Society in 1882. Following the establishment of the state of Israel in 1947, the hospital was in territory administered by Egypt and, between 1954 and 1982, was operated by a Cairo-based Medical Mission of the Southern Baptist Convention. The Gaza Strip came under Israeli control following the 1967 Six-Day War and, since 1982, the hospital has been operated by the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem (“Episcopal” refers to the denominational polity and shares relational ties to – but not under the authority of – the U.S. based Episcopal Church).
Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Since 2007, Gaza has been ruled by the militant Islamist group Hamas, which has launched rockets into Israel across several successive conflicts.
Anglicans are not a numerically large presence in the Holy Land (The Anglican/Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem covers Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon but counts fewer than 7,000 members). That said, Anglicans have a long history of ministry in this part of the world and operate numerous institutions that serve a substantially larger community than those found in its 29 congregations.
The Ahli Hospital receives financial support from the American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem (AFEDJ). The hospital is not – as a Washington Post headline initially read – “owned” by the Anglican Communion, which is a family of national churches (“provinces” in Anglican parlance) in relationship with one another, but is operated by the Episcopal/Anglican Diocese of Jerusalem.
In 2018, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry personally visited the hospital. Curry joined Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Jerusalem Archbishop Hosam Naoum this week in calling the Episcopal Church “to pray fervently for all those who have been hurt, harmed, or killed in this conflict” following the explosion.
The Hamas-run Health Ministry in Gaza has stated that 471 deaths and 314 injuries resulted from a rocket that hit the hospital on October 17. Third party organizations have stated that it is not possible to verify these numbers, while an Israeli spokesperson told the Daily Mail that the number of dead was “several dozen.”
The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) insist that the explosion was due to a rocket launched from a site west of the hospital by Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad that broke up mid-flight.
Video footage taken after the explosion shows burned-out cars in the hospital parking lot surrounded by intact structures. There was a relatively small blast zone, inconsistent with a blast crater and shock wave from an airstrike. NPR reports that the hospital itself took no structural damage and no staff were killed in the explosion, although two were injured. An independent video analysis conducted by The Wall Street Journal shows that the hospital was hit by a rocket launched from Gaza and directed towards Israel.
AFEDJ has referred to the hospital explosion as a “senseless tragedy” implying that it was unintended, but also in the same email newsletter as an “unconscionable, merciless attack” indicating the opposite.
Archbishop Welby has appealed for the Israeli evacuation order on hospitals in northern Gaza to be reversed.
“The evil and barbaric terror attacks on Israelis by Hamas were a blasphemous outrage,” Welby wrote on October 15. “But the civilians of Gaza are not responsible for the crimes of Hamas.”
Palestinian Anglican congregations in Ramallah and Bir Zeit sent a letter to Welby on October 21, charging that “our voices as Palestinian Anglicans are not being heard in Canterbury and our interests are being relegated.”
Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Foley Beach has appealed for aid and support to survivors of the conflict through the Anglican Relief and Development Fund and The Church’s Ministry Among Jewish People (CMJ-USA) to bring spiritual care, trauma counseling, and coordinating housing for displaced families.
Beach offered the following prayer:
“Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: Strengthen and protect those affected by the Israel-Hamas war, and so mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace; to whom be dominion and glory, now and forever. Amen.”