By Kirk Petersen
“There’s almost no sign of life in Gaza at the moment, especially in the northern part of Gaza,” said Archbishop Hosam Naoum, primate of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East. In Israel and the West Bank, “you can really smell the tension everywhere in people’s lives.”
In a wide-ranging November 21 webinar, Naoum, whose province includes Israel, Palestine, and 13 other countries, provided an update on the only Anglican hospital in Gaza, and called on the United States government to “make peace happen.”
He added, “if you leave it to the Israelis and the Palestinians themselves, they will not do that, you know, they need you in order to bring that peace.” At another point in the discussion he said, “the two-state solution is the only way forward for us.”
Naoum is an ethnic Palestinian who was born in Haifa, Israel. In addition to serving as primate of the Province of Jerusalem and the Middle East since earlier this year, Naoum has been Archbishop in Jerusalem since 2021.
The Diocese of Jerusalem, which encompasses Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, is unusual in that “we have more institutions than congregations,” Naoum said, giving 35 and 27 as the respective numbers.
One of those institutions is Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City, which Naoum said is now the only functioning hospital in northern Gaza. Catastrophe struck Al Ahli on October 17, when hundreds of people were killed in an explosion of disputed origin. Hamas quickly announced that more than 500 had been killed in “an Israeli air strike,” while the United States and Israel later estimated the death toll between 100 and 300 and said the most likely cause was a stray rocket fired by fighters in Gaza.
The hospital itself suffered little damage in the explosion, which occurred in a courtyard where people were taking shelter. Al Ahli has remained in operation using generators for electricity, but Naoum said “now we are running very low on fuel and medicals supplies — very, very, very thin. And I think within the next maybe week or so we will not be able to sustain and continue to work there.” He estimated there are about 150 people in the hospital, including 35 staff. He singled out especially Suhaila Tarazi, the director of the hospital. “We call her the Mother Teresa of Gaza,” he said.
He effusively thanked Curry and the Episcopal Church for prayers and support, and noted that American Friends of the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem has been collecting donations for the hospital.
AFEDJ spokeswoman Diana Branton said the organization has collected $1.4 million specifically for Al Ahli Hospital since the war began. She called the amount “amazing,” but noted that the hospital continues to need support.
The webinar was billed as a conversation between Naoum and Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry, but Naoum did most of the talking. When the moderator asked Curry what Americans can do to help, Curry urged people to contact their elected representatives and say, “Stop the killing, the killing must stop. The killing of anybody is wrong. Stop the killing of Palestinians, of Israelis, of children. Do everything in your power to bring an end to that.”
“Stop the killing” echoed a statement Curry issued on November 7, which was criticized because it called for Israel “to stop bombing civilian areas and allow access for full humanitarian aid to flow freely into Gaza,” but made no mention of Hamas. Hamas launched the war October 7 with a series of coordinated attacks that killed an estimated 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians, while taking more than 200 hostages.
Asked about this after the webinar, Public Affairs Officer Amanda Skofstad replied in writing that Curry had called for the release of hostages in his October 24 address to the Executive Council. The council itself, which Curry heads, passed a resolution saying it “manifestly condemns the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7,” and “laments the loss of life of innocents caused by Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, as well as the suffering from the lack of electricity, food, and safe water.”
Throughout the webinar, Naoum avoided making any direct criticism of either Israel or Hamas. “I’m not going to go into these politics,” he said, and acknowledged the need to speak carefully.
Moderator Paul Feheley, the Episcopal Church’s officer for Middle East partnerships, poked at the edges of that caution by quoting from the questions submitted online: “I’d like to know what news sources the archbishop recommends for gaining a broad and diverse perspective. What news organizations does the archbishop have the most confidence in?”
Anyone who hoped Naoum might declare sides by choosing Fox or MSNBC was disappointed. The archbishop chuckled and said he watches a lot of news programs but relies primarily on “primary sources” in Gaza and Israel. “Be aware of fake news,” he said.
Branton said AFEDJ has been compiling a running description of events on its website in an effort to make a reliable record. Immediate news reports can be slanted or inaccurate, so “we wait until we have verified information from the diocese” before posting, she said.
The webinar was sponsored by the Office of Government Relations, which intends to post a recording of the discussion on its events page.
When asked to offer a blessing at the end of the webinar, Naoum said he would speak partly in Arabic and partly in English. The ending was in English: “and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be among you and remain with you always. Amen.” At TLC’s request, Branton reached out to the archbishop for a translation of the Arabic portion at the beginning. “Are you ready?” Branton said. “The peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord.”