From the Worldwide Faith News archives www.wfn.org
Episcopalians: Gaza Anglican church, hospital sustains direct hit by missile
Sat, 25 Jan 2003 13:40:50 -0500
January 25, 2003
Episcopalians: Gaza Anglican church, hospital sustains direct
hit by missile
by Nancy Dinsmore
(ENS) 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, on January 24. 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."
"We are going to raise hell," Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal of the
Anglican Church in Jerusalem told Reuters. "Israelis do a lot of
talking about being nice, but apparently they can't distinguish
between a church and a foundry." Israeli Brigadier-General
Tzvika Fogel told Reuters that helicopters had fired five
missiles at a suspected Palestinian weapons factory, but two of
the missiles malfunctioned and one landed "in the vicinity" of
St. Philip's. Residents said the foundry destroyed in the attack
was about 900 meters from the church.
At about 2:15 the night of the bombing, 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 described "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," he said.
Gone in a minute
Built at the turn of the 20th century, St. Philip's Episcopal
Church was reconsecrated in 1996 by Bishops Samir Kafity and
Riah Abu El-Assal, in the presence of then-Archbishop of
Canterbury George Carey, then-Presiding Bishop Edmond Browning,
and 34 other primates of the Anglican Communion, along with
Palestinian president Yassir Arafat. Its century-old stained
glass windows were shattered by the explosion, and crystal from
its 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 during 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
Everyone at the hospital the next day 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. 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.
"Ahli Arab Hospital is like a small family, we all feel
connected," Salah said. "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.'
'Peace will prevail'
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.
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," she said. "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."
--Nancy Dinsmore is director of development for the Diocese of
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