Gaza’s Ahli: Large Numbers of People Took Refuge There because it is a Christian Hospital

Wounded transferred to the already overwhelmed Al-Shifa Hospital where doctors are performing surgery on the floor and in the halls, mostly without anaesthetics

The appalling loss of civilian life at the bombed Ahli Hospital has provoked worldwide outrage accompanied by Israel and Islamic Jihad trading accusations of blame.

Somebody who knows the hospital well is Ang Swee Chai, the orthopaedic surgeon and author. She became the first female consultant orthopaedic surgeon at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and is co-founder of the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).

Responding to an appeal for medical personnel from Christian Aid to treat war casualties in Lebanon, Ang Swee went to work at a hospital near the Sabra and Shatila refugee camp in Beirut where she witnessed the Sabra-Shatila massacre during the Israeli invasion in 1982. Yasser Arafat awarded her the Star of Palestine, the highest award for service to the Palestinian people.

According to this report, extensive damage from the bomb strike on the Ahli Hospital caused ambulances and private cars to rush some 350 casualties to Gaza City’s main hospital, Al-Shifa, which is already overwhelmed with wounded from other strikes. Its director, Mohammed Abu-Selmia, said doctors there were performing surgery on the floor and in the halls, mostly without anaesthetics. “We need equipment, we need medicine, we need beds, we need anaesthetics, we need everything.”

And he warned that fuel for the hospital’s generators would run out within hours, forcing a complete shutdown, unless supplies were allowed to enter the Gaza Strip.

The crisis prompted Swee to email friends:

I am devastated. Ahli Hospital is the only Christian Hospital in the Gaza Strip and it is so well loved by everyone, both Muslims and Christians. It was built by the Church Mission Society around 1900. I first worked and lived in Ahli Hospital 1988-89 having answered a request from the Bishop of Jerusalem to look after the wounded of the First Intifada. I told the Bishop I would look after and protect them.

Large numbers of people were sheltering there as it is a Christian Hospital. There was no other place of safety – and there is also a water fountain to drink from given there was no water in Gaza. The bombs came without warning and targeted the centre of the courtyard where people were taking refuge.

Hundreds of bodies were lying in hospital courtyard – initially thought to be 500, then body count went up to 600, and now 810, many children dead. You can see the videos on Palestine TV and it is Ahli Hospital alright. Not fake news. We do not know whether the Hospital Director Dr Zulaiha Tarazi or the chief surgeon Dr Mahir and the faithful hospital staff who had been serving the hospital throughout their lives have survived or not.

I wish I can be with them at this terrible moment. Professor Ghassan Abu-Sitta is now working there to help the wounded but I know he must be completely exhausted. His wife managed to facetime him yesterday and he has lost a lot of weight in ten days.

Please pray for the dead. Console the mourners and stand in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Love you and God bless,


The argument over whose fault it was seems to revolve around Israel’s claim that it was an Islamic Jihad rocket that misfired, and that some 450 rockets launched from Gaza had fallen short and landed inside the Strip in the last 11 days. They say the blast was consistent with unspent rocket fuel catching fire and the damage was caused by the propellant as much as the warhead.

Islamic Jihad points to Israel’s warning to evacuate Al-Ahli and reports of a previous blast at the hospital, showing that the building was an Israeli target. The size of the explosion, the trajectory of the falling bomb and the extent of the destruction all suggest it was an Israeli strike.

I’m reminded of earlier days when most of Gaza’s garden-shed wizz-bangs failed to clear the border fence and the effort looked sadly amateurish. Surely they have progressed since then.

Stuart Littlewood, after working on jet fighters in the RAF, became an industrial marketeer in oil, electronics and manufacturing, and with innovation and product development consultancies. He also served as a Cambridgeshire county councillor and a member of the Police Authority. He is an Associate of the Royal Photographic Society and has produced two photo-documentary books including Radio Free Palestine (with foreword by Jeff Halper). Now retired, he campaigns on various issues, especially the Palestinians' struggle for freedom. Read other articles by Stuart, or visit Stuart's website.