Episcopal support helps Diocese of Jerusalem, Al Ahli Hospital respond to suffering

By Melodie Woerman
Posted Feb 21, 2024

Al Ahli Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, is providing medical care to patients as well as shelter for family members within their compound. Photo: Courtesy of the Diocese of Jerusalem

[Episcopal News Service] The Episcopal Church’s United Thank Offering and Episcopal Relief & Development have announced new funding for the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and its Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City in the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. The funds come alongside the long-standing support of the American Friends of the Diocese of Jerusalem.

“We are extremely grateful for the ministry of the United Thank Offering, as it has supported our service to Christ here in the Holy Land for many years — particularly since Oct. 7,” Archbishop Hosam Naoum, the Anglican leader of the Diocese of Jerusalem, said in a press release.

“The staff and volunteers of our Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza have worked around the clock to alleviate the suffering of hundreds of patients brought through its gates each week,” Naoum said. “Please continue to pray and advocate on behalf of all those who suffer throughout the Holy Land, even as we seek a just and lasting peace in the very land where our Lord Jesus Christ took up his cross for our sake.”

The additional aid comes after months of deteriorating conditions in Gaza and at the hospital, the only one known to be operating in northern Gaza. Emergency medical workers have described patients crying out in pain and for water, as medical and life-sustaining resources are scarce.

On Feb. 19, the United Thank Offering, a ministry of The Episcopal Church, announced it would send $187,000 to the Diocese of Jerusalem, part of the Anglican province in the Middle East, to help meet immediate needs through its matching grant challenge.

The UTO board set a $100,000 challenge grant goal, its highest goal ever.

“We knew many people wanted to do something to help Israel and Palestine but didn’t know what to do,” Sherri Dietrich, board president, said in the press release. “We are very happy to have received many donations from new donors, as well as offerings from faithful United Thank Offering participants.”

In addition, the upcoming Good Friday Offering marks the 102nd year people across The Episcopal Church will be invited to make special contributions to support Christians in the Anglican Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East. The province’s Diocese of Jerusalem extends from Gaza to Syria and includes the West Bank, Israel, Jordan and Lebanon. It is home to about 7,000 Anglicans worshiping in 28 congregations.

The American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, a nonprofit organization and the Diocese of Jerusalem’s main fundraising arm, continues to raise funds for the schools and health care institutions of the diocese, including Al Ahli.

“What I’ve heard over and over again from people all across the north of Gaza is that [Al Ahli] is the one hospital that really ends up asking no questions. No matter who shows up, they take care of them,” Southeast Florida Assisting Bishop Greg Rickel, chair of AFEDJ’s Trustees, told Episcopal News Service.

The hospital has continued to serve people “through the incomprehensible amount of hardship they’re experiencing and major setbacks,” Diana Branton, AFEDJ’s communications director, told ENS.

As the conflict escalates, the hospital is currently seeing 300 new patients daily and has an 80-bed capacity, according to a Feb. 21 update posted to the AFEDJ’s website.

“The facility is stretched well beyond its intended capacity, requiring the utilization of every available space within the building to meet the escalating demand for medical care. This includes repurposing spaces such as the on-site library, pharmacy, and chapel. Ahli Hospital has increased their surgical capacity from two to four operating theaters and is now performing an astonishing 18-22 surgeries per day since the complete shuttering of major nearby hospitals,” according to the update.

Al Ahli Hospital has functioned in some capacity for all but two days since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked people inside Israel, killing more than 1,200 and taking more than 200 hostages and provoked an immediate assault from Israel. The hospital complex was hit twice. On Oct. 14, the top two floors of the hospital’s Diagnostic Cancer Treatment Center were badly damaged by rocket fire, and on Oct. 17, a bomb fell in the courtyard around which the hospital’s buildings are located, reportedly killing hundreds of people who had sought refuge there.

The war between Israel and Hamas now has killed more than 29,000 Palestinians, about two-thirds of them women and children, and injured more than 69,000 more, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry. In addition, at least half of all buildings in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed.

In December, Israeli forces detained medical personnel, holding at least one doctor in custody for 45 days in what he described as brutal conditions that compelled him and others to wish for death. Also, late last year, World Health Organization staff described Al Ahli Hospital as in a state of “utter chaos and a humanitarian disaster zone.”

“Patients were crying out in pain, but they were also crying out for us to give them water,” said WHO Emergency Medical Teams coordinator Sean Casey, describing the scene at Al Ahli Arab hospital, where medical staff were struggling to cope with “no food, no fuel, no water.”

“It looks more like a hospice now than a hospital. But a hospice implies a level of care that the doctors and nurses are unable to provide,” he said. “It’s pretty unbearable to see somebody with casts on multiple limbs, external fixator on multiple limbs, without drinking water and almost no IV fluids available.”

Conditions fluctuate constantly. Access to medicine and other supplies is sporadic, but because banks are open in northern Gaza the hospital can receive money to buy supplies when they become available, Branton said. In recent weeks, donations have provided some much-needed medical supplies, including antibiotics to treat the surge in infectious diseases caused by crowded Gaza shelters and the lack of clean water. And, in addition to serving patients, Al Ahli is housing patient families and those of hospital staff, as well as others who are sheltering there.

“The archbishop has said to me that his biggest concern is for staff and patients and keeping them as safe as possible,” said Rickel, who has led many pilgrimages to the Holy Land.

On Feb. 15,  Episcopal Relief & Development, whose mission is to be the church’s compassionate response to human suffering in the world, announced it is expanding its support for health care and educational institutions of the Diocese of Jerusalem.

“We’ve been sending aid directly to Al Ahli Hospital since October,” Gillian McCallion, vice president of marketing and communications, told ENS. “Their desire is to serve and heal and reach everybody who needs it, and they are really a remarkable partner.”

And while that aid will continue, McCallion said additional support will help expand mental health services at Al Ahli, as well as at two diocesan health care facilities located in the West Bank – St. Luke’s Hospital in Nablus and Penmen Clinic in Jenin.

–Melodie Woerman is a freelance reporter based in Kansas.