• ESSAYS \ Oct 18, 2023
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    The Baptist Hospital in Gaza: between 1954 and 1982 - By Bader Mansour
The Baptist Hospital in Gaza: between 1954  and 1982 - By Bader Mansour

After the year 1948 and the establishment of state of Israel, the Gaza Strip came under Egyptian control. It included 300,000 people, among them 280,000 Palestinian refugees who had lost their homes in the areas that had become Israel. Many of them lived in refugee camps in dire conditions. During this period, the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board established a medical mission to serve Palestinian refugees. They established a hospital in Ajloun in the Hashimite Kingdom of Jordan, where a significant number of Palestinian refugees had found shelter. They also adopted another hospital in the city of Gaza.

The hospital adopted by the Baptists in Gaza was an old hospital founded in 1882 by the British Anglican Church Missionary Society (CMS). In 1954, its management was taken over by the Southern Baptists and its name was changed to the Baptist Hospital. In 1982, it was handed over again to the Anglican/Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East and was renamed “the Arab Ahli Hospital”, which is its name to this day.
Dr. James M. Young was the hospital's head for the first ten years under Baptist ownership. With the Baptist missionaries arriving to serve in the hospital, a Baptist church was also established in the hospital in 1959 under the leadership of missionary Ed Nicholas. In 1962, the church received its first national pastor, Rev. Hanna Ibrahim, an Egyptian born in Samalut, Minya Governorate, Egypt.
In June 1967, Israel occupied the West Bank from Jordan and the Gaza Strip from Egypt. During the war, the hospital retained American doctors David Dorr and Merrill Moore, along with nurse Marlyn Shaffer. The Lebanese and Egyptian nurses remained alongside local nurses. The Baptist Hospital in Gaza, which remained open during the war, treated hundreds of injured individuals and performed around 130 surgeries in the first two weeks of the war. The people in Gaza appreciated the efforts of the Baptist medical mission. Additionally, refugees seeking shelter and food would come to the hospital, as it was considered a safe place during the conflict. The church also provided food to more than 500 people each day in that period.
The hospital continued to operate after the occupation of Gaza. It was managed by the Baptist Mission, and it employed American doctors and nurses, along with Palestinian medical staff, while the Egyptians and Lebanese left after the war.
On January 16, 1972, American nurse Mavis Pate was killed when a van she was traveling in near the Jabalia refugee camp was caught in clashes between Palestinian Liberation Organization factions and an armed Israeli patrol. In the incident, the van driver, Rev. Ed Nicholas, and his daughters Joy, Carol Pate and Mary Ann were also injured. The sacrifice of Mavis inspired many American nurses to follow her example in serving in Gaza.
On January 1, 1982, after 27 years since the founding of the Baptist Hospital in Gaza, the hospital was returned to the Anglican Church, and its name was changed to the Ahli Arab Hospital. This decision was necessary because the hospital's annual budget was half a million dollars, and it was required to collect 80% of this amount from the patients. However, this became impossible with the financial inflation reaching 130% in 1981. After the ownership transfer, the hospital still had 17 salaried Baptist missionaries, and the Baptist missionaries managed the nursing school for several years.
ٍِSadly, the hospital was hit by a rocket on October 17, 2023, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians who had sought refuge in the hospital's vicinity due to the ongoing war in the Gaza Strip. The name "Baptist Hospital" was used in many news reports, even though the hospital is currently owned and managed by the Episcopal Church, but it seems that some in Gaza still remember the old name and the contribution of the Baptists in serving the people of Gaza, which continues to this day through the Baptist Church in Gaza.