Christian leaders urge U.S. to restore hospital aid

Friday, November 16, 2018 - Updated: 1:17 pm

By Judith Sudilovsky Catholic News Service

JERUSALEM — U.S. Christian leaders expressed “grave concern” about the Trump administration’s decision to stop financial assistance to six East Jerusalem hospitals.

Israeli doctors from most of Israel’s major hospitals called the decision a blow to the health of the city.

The hospitals provide “invaluable medical care for the most vulnerable populations, including Palestinians living in East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank,” the Christian leaders said in a Nov. 1 statement. It was issued jointly by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committees on International Justice and Peace and Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs; the presiding bishop and conference of bishops of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church on behalf of its House of Bishops.

“We consider (the hospitals) integral parts of our common commitment to ministry in the Holy Land,” they said in the statement.

President Donald Trump said his administration would cut $200 million of aid to medical and humanitarian aid providers. Earlier, he had announced that the U.S. would withhold $350 million from the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East — amounting to more than one-quarter of the organization’s annual budget.

The Lutheran Augusta Victoria Hospital, the Anglican St. John of Jerusalem Eye Hospital and Princess Basma Rehabilitation Centre, the Catholic St. Joseph Hospital, the Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital, and the Red Crescent Maternity Hospital will be affected by the cuts.

“Each (of these hospitals) has benefited from U.S. assistance for decades and, therefore, this decision to discontinue that funding leaves the patients, the wider Palestinian community and us disappointed and perplexed,” the religious leaders said in their statement. “It is difficult to understand why this humanitarian assistance is being brought to a halt, given that lives are being threatened unnecessarily.”

Ninety percent of the hospitals’ patients come with insurance from the Palestinian Authority, which has been unable to pay its full medical bills. The U.S. Congress approved $25 million for the financial year 2017 to be paid to the Palestinian Authority to help cover the bills of the patients from the West Bank. The European Union provides $15 million per year to cover payments.

The current total accumulated debt owed to the hospitals by the Palestinian Authority now has reached $80 million, said Walid Nammour, CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital and secretary of the East Jerusalem Hospital Network. He said the Palestinian health insurance system was “extraordinarily weak and haphazard.”

“By the time the USA decided to stop (financial support), we have reached our maximum credit line debt ... with suppliers, especially the Makassed Hospital. This is starting to affect the expensive chemotherapy treatments (at Augusta Victoria),” he said.

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