From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Episcopalians: Gaza Anglican church, hospital sustains direct hit by missile

Date 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 

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home