by Maurine and the Rev. Robert Tobin
St. Brendan’s, Deer Isle
[Al Ahli Arab Hospital, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, was the recipient of this year’s Diocese of Maine Millennium Development Goal funding . The annual donation, which represents 0.07% of diocesan annual income, totalled $13,000. In 2013, the hospital received one-half of the MDG funding with the balance going to support the ministries of St. George’s Anglican Church in Baghdad. Both ministries serve all people regardless of religion, race, or ethnicity. Maurine and Bob welcome the opportunity to share what they have observed and learned in Gaza with Maine congregations. Email Maurine at email@example.com to set a date.]
Having viewed countless reports, photos and videos, we felt prepared for what we would see on our visit to Gaza in early December 2014. But the reality was overwhelming. No video can capture the scope of the destruction, block upon block of Israeli-demolished apartment buildings, bullet sprayed shops and homes, children playing in rubble, men searching for reusable stones.
Arriving days after Gaza had been flooded by torrential rains, we were met by Suhaila Tarazi, Director of Al Ahli Arab Hospital, and taken on a “tour” of northern Gaza, starting with Beit Hanoun, a village near the checkpoint which had long since lost its citrus groves to an Israeli-created “no man’s land” and had struggled to survive by bringing light industry to the area, now bombed, adding thousands to the pre-war unemployment rate of over 50%.
Thinking we had seen the worst, we were overcome by Shujiya, on the edge of old Gaza City, a neighborhood of native Gazans, unlike the 2/3’s of citizens who are refugees from 1948. We were shocked to see people living among the debris – blankets over gaping holes attesting to habitation for some of the 250,000 now homeless, though they are luckier than the more than 2100 killed, including 500 children. We talked with a family living in a sort of cave created by the fallen four floors of their apartment building, interrupting the father’s lunch, bits of canned meat and bread distributed to the 80% of Gazans dependent on international aid. His wife and son were not eating.
As we later learned from the pediatrician at Al Ahli, children under 18 make up 54% of the population of Gaza, and 70% of
all children in Gaza are anemic and malnourished, 25% developmentally delayed as a result. Post-traumatic stress disorder is almost universal among children who have experienced three devastating wars in the past 6 years.
After viewing the lovely waterfront where people seek some respite, we drove alongside the Beach Camp, one of the densest refugee camps in the world, from which raw sewage flows to the sea. We passed a bombed out mosque in an untouched area, obviously one of the 73 mosques targeted for destruction.
The next day, we visited Al Ahli to experience the ongoing miraculously good work that small hospital does. Dr. Maher recounted the trauma of the 51 day assault – surgeons operating round the clock, countless shrapnel and burn victims, and the horrifying puzzle of what new weapon the Israelis were testing in this war, not the white phosphorous of the previous attack, but something that caused the internal organs to become toxic after shrapnel had been surgically removed, forcing the surgeons to repeat surgeries to stop the infections if they were able to do so. We visited the pediatric unit, where mothers receive nutritional advice while children receive medical care; the burn unit where a wide-eyed little boy stood waist deep in a hydrotherapy tub, soothing his badly burned legs. We talked with a young man receiving physical therapy for a shrapnel-shattered arm after two of his family members were killed and 12 injured, and we visited a beautiful new diagnostic center recently built with funds from USAID funneled through ANERA because only American institutions can receive such funding.
The building proved to be the metaphor for our entire visit: we entered the state of the art structure for high tech diagnostics only to find it completely empty! There is simply no money for the desperately needed bone density and CT scans, the MRI, the laboratory equipment, the mammography machines. In fact, Ahli struggles to buy fuel to keep the generator working for the many hours a day when there is no electricity and to purchase urgently needed medical supplies.
The building is a tribute to the faith and hope of the Ahli staff and its resourceful leadership even though it is an empty shell today. We were reminded of the Palestinian flags flying proudly on every collapsed building we saw; the fisherman tending their boats despite the fact that the risk their lives when they put to sea, likely to be confronted by an Israeli patrol; the palpable sense everywhere that the people of Gaza, despite the ongoing siege and the repeated assaults are determined to live. Some resist their oppression violently, unsurprising in the face of their reality, and some resist non-violently by refusing to lose hope in the future, as do the staff of Al Ahli. It is clear that the world has not responded to their cry for justice, but it is also clear that the people of Gaza, are “afflicted in every way, but are not crushed.” ( 2 Cor. 4:3)
The Rev. Robert Tobin and Maurine Tobin are residents of Deer Isle and long-term volunteers at Sabeel Ecumenical Theology Center and the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. They have led 23 groups to see the facts on the ground and to meet with Christian, Jewish, and Muslim advocates for a just peace.