Following an Israeli-Hamas ceasefire in Gaza, Palestinians are only beginning to realise the scope of their losses from a three-week Israeli onslaught, says the director of the Anglican Al Ahli Arab Hospital.
Judith Sudilovsky writes: "Gaza is still full of blood and grief," said Suhaila Tarrazi, who heads the hospital. "People are going to their homes and seeing the losses of their family members. Hundreds [of bodies] are still lying underneath buildings." Tarrazi said, "It is a terrible, horrible situation à Gaza is a real catastrophe."
Along with the other 10 hospitals in Gaza, Al Ahli Hospital felt the brunt of devastating injuries suffered by Palestinians during the three-week war, she said.
Israel said it launched the attacks in order to put a halt to the eight years of rocket attacks into Israeli civilian populations by Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned Israel's "excessive use of force" in the Gaza Strip, while Israel accused Hamas of using civilians as human shields.
But more than a ceasefire is needed to alleviate the distress of the 1.5 million people who live in Gaza, an area that is twice the size of Washington DC. This ceasefire is just the first step to recovery within the Gaza Strip, a church relief worker in the area stated.
ACT International's representative for Israel and Palestine, Liv Steimoeggen, said that the Israeli blockade on Gaza now has to be lifted. "The silence from the guns has little meaning if the blockade continues," said Steimoeggen. "The Palestinians can't live with such a humiliation. Lifting of the blockade is the first real step to peace. We can't continue as if nothing has happened."
Al Ahli Hospital is run by the (Anglican) Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem. It also gets support from groups such as Caritas Jerusalem, a Roman Catholic aid organization, and received assistance and material during the war from USAID and ACT International, an alliance of church groups dealing with emergencies. Located in the centre of Gaza city, the hospital's windows were shattered due to the Israeli bombing in the area.
The hospital is no stranger to war. In the late 1800s, the Church Missionary Society established medical work in Gaza and, in 1907 it built the first hospital in Gaza City. This hospital was destroyed during the First World War, and was rebuilt by CMS, as Al Ahli Arab Hospital. It became a Southern Baptist hospital in the 1950s, and then in 1982 it became an Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem institution.
More injured who had been afraid to come to the hospital during the fighting were seeking treatment, Tarrazi said. However, there were still injured in certain areas who were unable to reach hospitals for treatment. Many of the victims have lost limbs or are suffering from serious burns, said the hospital director, who, together with much of her staff, spent most of the war at the hospital.
Despite the emergency shipments they received, there is still a lack of medicines, equipment and bandages to treat the wounded, she said. With thousands sharing bathroom facilities, poor hygienic conditions and bodies still lying under decomposing debris, the fear of cholera and typhoid epidemics is very real unless actions are taken quickly, Tarrazi said.
On 18 January Israel announced it would open an emergency medical treatment centre at the Erez checkpoint in Gaza to allow for injured Palestinians to be transferred from Gaza to Israeli hospitals.
Tarrazi said that as a private hospital all transfers of patients from Al Ahli need to be assisted by the Palestinian Ministry of Health and she was awaiting communications from it.
"There are not any good centres for treatment here. We have very limited services in comparison to the treatment needed for these injuries," she said. "I hope our patients can go somewhere. They need treatment."
B'tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, said on 18 January, the first day of the ceasefire, that 95 bodies were dug up from the debris. As of 19 January, the number of Palestinians killed reached at least 1300, including at least 410 children and 104 women. According to the Palestinians Ministry of Health more than 5320 Palestinians were injured, of them more than 350 suffered severe wounds.
In Israel, B'tselem said three civilians and 10 soldiers were killed during the war. More than 84 Israeli civilians were injured, four severely, while some were treated for shock. B'tselem said 113 Israeli soldiers were injured.
[With acknowledgements to ENI. Ecumenical News International is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, and the Conference of European Churches.]