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Several years ago I accompanied my wife Martine, an Anglican priest, on a journey through the Erez crossing into Gaza to deliver desperately needed medical equipment to the Al-Ahli Anglican hospital with Gaza.
This small hospital, with less than 100 beds, is a brief ten-minute journey by taxi from Erez.
We learnt that it was constantly struggling for funds and reliant on donors, one of the most generous of whom, we were gratefully told, is a relative of George W Bush’s vice president Dick Cheney. Yet with meagre resources the service Al-Ahli has provided in Hamas-controlled Gaza has been exemplary for many decades.
In a normal year, the hospital provides medical attention to 45,000 patients, free mobile clinics to villages throughout Gaza, for elderly women and facilities to deal with burn injuries and malnourished children. The hospital – motto “Serve one another in love” – is run by Christians, motivated by the sacrificial teaching of Jesus Christ.
However, the great majority of the patients are Muslim, and the hospital operates with the cooperation and approval of Hamas. The Anglican Archbishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, Archbishop Hosam Naoum, visited the Al-Ahli just a few days before the Israeli bombing began.
The sacrifice of the doctors and nurses through many Israeli invasions cannot be computed. And many of those doctors and nurses, we must assume, are now dead. And along with them hundreds of Gaza civilians who had come to the hospital to seek shelter and safety.
The Israeli Defence Force is denying that it was responsible for the missile attack, pointing the finger instead at either Hamas or Islamic Jihad.
British media this morning is giving significant credibility to these claims. While they must not be dismissed out of hand, it may be that the Israelis are putting into effect their tried and tested technique of furious denial accompanied by faux forensic evidence. And that the British media have fallen for it. True to form, instead of concentrating on the massacre some are reporting it as an intriguing whodunnit, with moral outrage taking second place.
I am perplexed that reporters are not examining a significant episode that took place three days ago, when an Israeli missile struck the hospital.
By what appeared to be an enormous stroke of luck it hit a new facility for providing radiation treatment to cancer sufferers- very badly needed in under siege Gaza.
The facility, due to be opened this week, was empty and only four people were lightly injured. But was it just luck? Or was it an Israeli warning shot?
I spoke to Richard Sewell, Dean of St George’s College, in the aftermath of the attack. He spoke of his enormous relief that people had not been killed, noting that 5,000 Gazans were sheltering in the hospital in the hope of safety and equally important access to clean drinking water.
Ever since the Anglican hospital has been dreading a second strike.
In the aftermath of this first attack, it is being reported, the Israeli defence forces were given the coordinates of the hospital to avoid a second strike. Here’s another question: if these reports are true why was this information not acted upon?
We do not know yet the number of the dead. The bodies are still being recovered.
There is an Anglican chapel adjacent to the hospital and I have been told that many of the dead were huddled in the open space between the two buildings.
Such facts as these are yet to be confirmed, but one thing we already know. Last night’s missile strike is an act of pure, unadulterated evil. Whoever was responsible is a war criminal who must be hauled for justice in front of a tribunal at the Hague.
If Benjamin Netanyahu was not responsible then he will surely be more than happy to invite an international criminal court investigation to prove his innocence – and see those he has accused of this terrible crime brought to justice.
And this must also be said. If Netanyahu did order this atrocity, then he is not the only one who should be brought to justice. The American president Joe Biden would also have blood on his hands for giving Israel carte blanche to attack Gaza and kill innocent civilians. And not just Biden.
The same would apply to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who gave his ‘unequivocal” backing to Israel to invade Gaza. Sunak failed to remind Israel of its duties under international law, thus making Britain complicit in Israeli atrocities.
The same could be said of the British leader of the opposition Keir Starmer who, when asked about the Israeli plans to cut off electricity in Gaza, said that Israel “does have that right”.
If Israel is proven to have bombed the hospital then Starmer, like the American president and the British prime minister, has blood on his hands.
So too, it should be said in fairness, would the British newspaper editors who have swallowed Israeli claims and banged the drum for war.
For far too long the British and American political and media establishment have allowed Israel impunity for war crimes, of which the latest may be the missile which struck the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza.
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Today American President Joe Biden flies in on Air Force One to Tel Aviv airport. His trip is being presented across the western mainstream media as a statesmanlike attempt to bring peace to the ever troubled Middle East.
The leader column in today’s Jerusalem Post declares that “this unprecedented expression of solidarity – the first wartime to Israel by an American president – sends a powerful to all Israelis and to the nations of the world, friends and foes alike.”
Perhaps. But unfortunately, to many across the Middle East, this morning’s meeting between the Israeli and US leader will instead look more like two war criminals meeting in private to work out how best to whitewash a massacre.