Magazine article The Christian Century

Lutheran Hospital Caught in Palestinian Monetary Dilemma

Magazine article The Christian Century

Lutheran Hospital Caught in Palestinian Monetary Dilemma

Article excerpt

Jerusalem's Augusta Victoria Hospital, a facility that treats Palestinian residents from the West Bank as well as some Arabs from East Jerusalem, has a million-dollar view from its perch atop the Mount of Olives.

Built in 1910 by Germany's Kaiser Wilhelm II, the stone building affords a heart-stopping vista of the Old City of Jerusalem, whose ancient walls gently slope into the contours of the hills and valleys below. Sunlight glints off the gold-topped Dome of the Rock, built on the contested Temple Mount.

But Augusta Victoria, which is owned and operated by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has been on an emergency footing since January, the last time the cash-starved Palestinian Authority was able to pay its debts.

The hospital relied on the Palestinian government's insurance payments for 40 percent of its operating budget. The facility has been living on credit with suppliers.

"We're in a difficult situation, even though we're receiving help from churches around the world," said Mark Brown, a minister who is the LWF's regional representative in Jerusalem, referring to an emergency international appeal on the hospital's behalf. "There are facilities in even worse shape."

The Palestinian Authority owes huge sums of money to numerous hospitals, schools and clinics, which are scrambling to make up the shortfall without sacrificing vital services. Augusta Victoria, like other humanitarian institutions, has been caught in the middle.

The crisis began when several Western governments, including the U.S. and the European Union, decided to withhold hundreds of millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority after Hamas scored a resounding victory in last January's elections. The governments fear that Hamas, which has perpetrated numerous suicide bombings, could use the money to sponsor terrorism.

Prior to the Hamas win, about a quarter of the Palestinian Authority's gross disposable income came from donor countries. Much of that aid paid the salaries of 160,000 civil servants and helped support medical care and other services.

Members of the "Quartet"--the U.S., Russia, the UN and the European Union--decided May 9 to establish a fund to pay impoverished government employees. They say they are finalizing plans to send money through alternative channels, but no one knows when or how the funds will reach the people who need them most. (A June 3 Reuters story quoting a U.S. State Department official visiting Kuwait said that plans should be finished before the end of June. …

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