Week one – the Holy Land: “Bringing good news to the poor”

Over the next two weeks we will be featuring the places that the Lent Call is supporting in the Holy Land. Travellers on the Diocesan Pilgrimage will be visiting two of the projects whist they are in the Holy Land. These are Jeel Al Amal, a school and home for boys from the Palestinian territories who are orphaned or unable to live with their families full time, and the Al Shurooq School for the Blind – and we will hear about them in a future blog.

Sadly the pilgrims will not be able to visit the other project we are supporting, the Al Ahli Arab Hospital, as it is situated in Gaza City and there are severe restrictions on the movement of materials and people in and out of the area.

Gaza has experienced chronic energy shortages since Israel’s imposition of a blockade and closure in 2007. This crisis was exacerbated in June 2017 with the cutting of electricity supplied by Israel at the request of the Palestinian Authority. Though supplies of this electricity via Israel have restarted, severe fuel shortages for Gaza’s sole power plant remain. Gaza is now receiving four hours of mains electricity every 12 to 16 hours, leaving hospitals and healthcare centres entirely reliant on backup generators for long periods of time, fuel for which is rapidly running out.

A few days ago the head of the UNRWA – the UN aid agency for Palestinian refugees in Gaza warned that it cannot guarantee food distribution beyond the end of June and they cite major funding cuts by the United States as the cause. There are growing concerns about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza and its potential to prompt conflict with Israel.

Gaza’s health system is beset by severe shortages and increasing restrictions to the movement of patients. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that in January, 40% of all essential drugs were entirely depleted, including medications used in emergency departments. There is also less than one month’s supply available of 26% of medical disposables such as syringes and wound dressings. Last year also saw the lowest rate of permit approvals by Israeli authorities for Palestinian patients needing to exit for medical care outside Gaza since records began in 2006.

In a land where hardship is commonplace, the conditions in Gaza stand out, but the Al Ahli Arab Hospital generates a beacon of peace and hope for the people it serves and continues to provide some of the finest medical care available in the region.

The Al Ahli Arab Hospital is supported by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and a number of charities including the Friends of the Holy Land and Embrace the Middle East – both of which have Bishop Christopher as a Patron.

It offers a wide range of services, many of those, in fact, that we would expect to see in a modern hospital here in England, but the challenges are so much more as getting all the necessary medicines and supplies and ensuring that there is power can be very hard work.

The hospital provides outpatient services which include general medicine clinics, surgery, paediatric, obstetric/gynaecology and urology clinics. It also has emergency and ambulance services 24 hours a day and over 18,000 outpatients are treated a year. Around 6,000 in-patients are treated each year in the general medicine clinics, surgery, maternity ward and Intensive Care Unit.

The Hospital’s rehabilitation department provides the best rehabilitation services in the Gaza Strip. Patients include victims from both the first and the second Intifadas. There are only three physiotherapists at the Hospital, but they treat more than 10,000 people a year.

In addition to its hospital facility, Al Ahli provides free mobile clinics to villages across Gaza and offers specialised support for different community groups such as free clinics for elderly women, free care for burn injuries and underweight or malnourished children, screening programs for early detection of breast cancer among women and essential psycho-social support.

David Longe, Chaplain to Archbishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem, writes to say that the situation in Gaza is sadly continuing to be tense since the beginning of the year, with conflict breaking out in the south of the strip last week.  This places enormous strain on its inhabitants – many of whom are unemployed and are registered refugees. UNRWA, the UN body responsible for caring for Palestinian refugees in Gaza and the West Bank, provides some startling statistics:

  • the unemployment rate [in Gaza] is well over 41 per cent – one of the highest in the world, according to the World Bank
  • 3 million registered refugees out of 1.9 million total population (approximately 70 per cent)
  • 8 refugee camps with almost 12,500 staff
  • 267 schools for over 262,000 students
  • 21 health centres
  • 16 relief and social services offices
  • 3 micro-finance offices
  • 12 food distribution centres for almost one million beneficiaries.

The Al Ahli Arab Hospital as a principal care provider in Gaza City and through its satellite clinics, provides a vital life-line for many Gazans who feel forgotten and scared as to what the future may hold.

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David Longe and his brother William will be running the Palestine Marathon on Friday 23 March to raise funds for cancer treatment in Gaza at the Al Ahli Arab Hospital.

As we enter Lent and think about the wonderful work that we have heard of that the Al Ahli Arab Hospital does, we are very aware that recently their situation has become more complex because of the political situation which has been causing difficulties in recent months.

Israel conducted air strikes in Gaza, following reports of rocket fire from Gaza and news that four Israeli soldiers were injured by an improvised explosive device close to the border. This bombing has taken place very near to the hospital and, although we do not believe that they have suffered damage, we know that their situation – which is always tense and with many concerns – has become more difficult as a result.

Please pray for the peace of Jerusalem and of the Holy Land and for a will to find a solution from all sides, that more casualties will not be caused and that those who need medical attention will be able to receive it.

Your support for the Bishop’s Lent Call will help ensure that that the Al Ahli Arab Hospital can continue its wonderful work, providing vital medical care for the beleaguered people of Gaza.

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