Lutherans urge support for hospital in East Jerusalem

Published June 1, 2006

An inadvertent casualty of the West’s disaproval of the new Palestinian government are the patients – some of them children – of the Lutheran-supported Augusta Victoria Hospital located on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem. In operation since 1950, August is aided by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF). Based in Geneva, the LWF is a communion of 140 church bodies in 78 countries, representing 66.2 million of the 69.7 million Lutherans worldwide. It provides health care to refugees around the world.Augusta serves patients regardless of race, gender, religious belief, nationality, ethnic origin or political persuasion. Although the hospital mainly provides services for Palestinian refugees in co-operation with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, it also supports the health and medical needs of the entire community.With the January election of Hamas, both as the government of the Palestinian Authority and dedicated to the destruction of Israel, countries including Canada, United States and the European Union have halted financial support. This has not only severely affected the Palestinian Authority’s ability to honour contractual obligations to Augusta for its humanitarian services, but also has the potential to dissolve into mass panic.While the Palestinian Authority contracts with Augusta for specialized head, neck and digestive system care, Dr. Tawfig Nasser, Augusta’s CEO, said in Winnipeg last April that his immediate concern is the number of patients the hospital receives each month for cancer care, including radiation and chemotherapy treatment, as well as 26 children who require daily lifesaving kidney dialysis.  “There should be a mechanism for making a political statement while still preventing humanitarian disaster,” said Dr. Nasser, “Can I tell a child, ‘I cannot dialyze your kidneys because Mom and Dad voted for the wrong political party?'”Given this international embargo, Augusta has not been able to meet payroll and medical supply requirements. While this has resulted in the departure of medical staff, there are other doctors and nurses who continue to work without immediate pay.  The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), together with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, have made, respectively, $50,000 and $100,000 US immediately available to Augusta. The LWF has also issued an emergency appeal through the global aid alliance Action by Churches Together, which includes the worldwide Anglican Communion, for $1.4 million to keep the hospital in operation for the next six months. ELCIC National Bishop Raymond Schultz has rightly implored the Canadian government to establish alternate mechanisms of support to Palestinian institutions and thereby regard Augusta as a non-partisan channel for the provision of health care to needy Palestinians.While a bilateral boycott on international assistance will hopefully exert pressure on Hamas to moderate its stance on Israel, the financial sanctions could also lead to a major humanitarian crisis, as it wields prolonged, intense hardship on essential community services among those with the least ability to effect political change. The global church must do what it can to care for the sick in the name of Christ, especially when and if the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority can no longer carry out its responsibility for basic health care and educational services to its population.

Rev. Peter Mikelic pastors Epiphany Lutheran church, Toronto, and writes for various church and secular publications.


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