Little did I know, lying in a hospital bed in East Jerusalem in 1976 with amoebic dysentery and, well, chicken pox, that I’d be back in Northfield 40-some years later working to generate political pressure for the release of critical U.S. assistance to Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) and the other East Jerusalem hospitals. Thankfully, my participation in the 1976-77 St. Olaf term in the Middle East wasn’t all about exploring hospitals.
Our classes covered theology, history and politics, and we heard from a variety of Palestinians and Israelis. But I think it was the conversations around the edges — the gut-wrenching ones about demolished homes, illegal detentions, mistreatment and torture, confiscation of land, violence, and the fears and aspirations (of both occupier and occupied) — that drew me back to Jerusalem for more than 20 years in the decades after that college experience. I was convinced then, as I am now, that a lasting peace will require the promotion and protection of human rights and must be supported along the way by humanitarian assistance that fosters healing and the strengthening of key institutions.
It was a privilege to serve as the Lutheran World Federation representative in Jerusalem and to work in support of the LWF-owned Augusta Victoria Hospital on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem.
Today, AVH is a center of medical excellence in East Jerusalem, serving the 5 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. As one of the six hospitals in the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network, AVH offers specialized care not available in other hospitals in the West Bank and Gaza, including radiation therapy for cancer patients and pediatric hemodialysis.
Unfortunately, the services provided by AVH are in jeopardy, in part because the U.S. administration decided last year to cut funding for the East Jerusalem hospitals and to cut other humanitarian assistance for the West Bank and Gaza. AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals rely on funding each year from the U.S., the European Union and others to cover approximately half of the costs of patients referred to these hospitals by the Palestinian Authority (PA).
The Palestinian Authority, Israel, United States and the international community have a deep interest in ensuring that the six East Jerusalem hospitals continue to function and play a role in promoting Palestinian access to quality health care. In addition to providing life-saving specialty-care services, AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals are helping to foster a constructive environment for future peace negotiations. In light of the administration’s decision to cut the FY 2017 funding to East Jerusalem hospitals, it becomes all the more urgent in the short-term to encourage the administration to release the FY 2018 funding.
In the long-term, the PA, Israel, the U.S. and EU need to work together to find solutions for the sustainability of these services. They need to address the accumulated PA debts to the six East Jerusalem hospitals, promote reforms of the Palestinian health system, promote ways to increase funding locally, and work to secure ongoing international assistance.