Episcopal, Anglican leaders respond to Israel’s forced closure of Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza

By Shireen Korkzan
Posted Jul 8, 2024

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

[Episcopal News Service] Israel Defense Forces on July 7 forced Al Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City to close and evacuate all patients and staff after declaring the hospital’s immediate vicinity a “red zone” and conducting a series of drone strikes nearby, according to a July 8 statement from the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. The diocese operates the hospital.

“We protest the closure of our hospital in the strongest possible terms,” Archbishop Hosam Naoum, bishop of the diocese and primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East, said in the statement. “In a time of warfare and great suffering it is essential that emergency healthcare services are maintained to treat the injured and the dying.”

The diocese’s statement also said one of its ambulances was fired upon as it was en route to Al Ahli, but no information about the driver and passengers is available.

“We stand in solidarity with our Anglican family, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, against the closure and evacuation of this vital diocesan health ministry,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said in a July 8 statement released by The Episcopal Church’s Office of Public Affairs. “This action violates the dignity of already-vulnerable people and is against international humanitarian law​.”

The war between Israel and Hamas, which started in October 2023, has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 38,000 Palestinians in Gaza and at least 1,200 Israelis, according to the United Nations. The war has so far displaced almost 2 million Palestinians, or 83% of the population.

The Holy Land conflict was much discussed at last month’s 81st General Convention, held in Louisville, Kentucky. At least 16 resolutions related to the conflict were proposed for bishops’ and deputies’ consideration. 

Two of the resolutions (D007 and D056) adopted by convention called for an immediate ceasefire, with one additionally calling for humanitarian aid to Gaza and the release of all hostages and prisoners, as well as the condemnation of the increasing seizure of land and violence against Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

In his statement, Curry reiterated the call for a ceasefire. 

As a church, we again call for a ceasefire, for humanitarian aid to flow freely to all in need, and we pray for an immediate end to violence against civilian populations,” he said. 

Naoum attended General Convention, where he encouraged Episcopalians and Anglicans to advocate for a just and lasting peace. 

“I don’t claim to know or to have the magical solution,” he said in an interview with Episcopal News Service.  But, he added, he hopes his church can begin to help both Israelis and Palestinians take some small steps toward a solution. 

Palestinians carry their belongings as they flee the eastern part of Gaza City after they were ordered by Israeli army to evacuate their neighborhoods on July 7, 2024. Photo: Dawoud Abu Alkas/REUTERS

Early on in the conflict, a unit of Al Ahli was partly damaged by rocket fire, thought to have been fired by the Israeli military, and another deadly explosion in the hospital’s courtyard drew international condemnation, though Israel and the United States said that blast appeared to have been caused by Palestinian militants. The hospital had also served as a shelter for civilians.

Other Christian leaders also expressed dismay at the hospital’s forced closure. 

The closure of the hospital, the evacuation, and the declaration of the area as a red zone, in addition to the firing upon the ambulance, are all unacceptable violations of humanitarian international law,” Churches for Middle East Peace, of which The Episcopal Church is a member, said in a July 8 statement. “International law demands that health establishments and units, including hospitals, should not be attacked. In addition, the already vulnerable, the wounded and the sick, and those seeking shelter should not be placed in further harm or jeopardy.”

Al Ahli Arab Hospital

Al Ahli Arab Hospital has been ministering as a Christian witness in Gaza City since 1882. The institution was founded by the Church of England’s Church Mission Society and was later run as a medical mission by the Southern Baptist Conference from 1954 to 1982. It then returned to the Anglican Church. Photo: Mary Frances Schjonberg/Episcopal News Service

World Council of Churches General Secretary the Rev. Jerry Pillay condemned the attacks and also called for an immediate ceasefire. 

“We call on all parties to end the violence immediately and agree to a ceasefire. Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families during this tragic time,” Pillay said.

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.

“We appeal to the Israeli forces to permit us to continue our sacred ministry of medical care and healing,” Naoum said in the Diocese of Jerusalem’s statement. “We plead for an end to the targeting of civilians and all vulnerable people and demand all parties agree to an immediate ceasefire.”

The Episcopal Church’s Washington, D.C.-based Office of Government Relations is working with contacts in the White House, the U.S. Department of State and key congressional offices in response to Al Ahli’s closure, according to the church’s Office of Public Affairs.

In the statement, Curry encourages Episcopalians to join the Episcopal Public Policy Network to receive updates and action alerts and learn how to best advocate to elected officials.

“Let us pray particularly for the safety of the hospital’s patients and staff—and those who had been sheltering at the hospital who are now displaced again,” the presiding bishop said. “And as the prophet Micah said, may God give all of us the will and the courage to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God.”

-Shireen Korkzan is a reporter and assistant editor for Episcopal News Service based in northern Indiana. She can be reached at skorkzan@episcopalchurch.org.