By Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling
The year after I graduated from seminary, I went to the Holy Land. The Old Testament professor and archeologist who led the trip used Palestinian travel services and hotels to support our trip. It opened my eyes to some of the deepest challenges that Palestinian people experience in Israel. One of the most impressive stops was to Augusta Victoria hospital, the only hospital in East Jerusalem that treated Palestinians. It was run by the Lutheran World Federation. I remember feeling so proud of that. Currently, the hospital is the main cancer and kidney center for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.
The recent cuts by the Trump administration in aid to the Palestinians affects Augusta Victoria directly. AVH and five other East Jerusalem hospitals rely on funding each year from the United States and the European Union to cover approximately half the costs of patients referred to these hospitals. Currently, the AVH is owed over $38 million of a total of $80 million to the six East Jerusalem hospitals. However, several media reported on Sept. 7 that $25 million in 2017 U.S. government funding that was designated for AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals would not be released. Approximately half of the $25 million would be for AVH. The large amount owed to AVH is due to the high cost of cancer medications. It is especially urgent that this action be challenged in order to ensure ongoing treatment and to avoid putting cancer patients in jeopardy.
Augusta Victoria Hospital is able to operate because of the support of LWF member churches, like the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and long-standing partnerships with countries like the United States. In the last decade, the U.S. government, through USAID, has invested nearly $10 million in AVH to bolster its capacity as a cancer center. In addition, the U.S. government has provided tens of millions of dollars in aid over several years to help cover the costs of the cancer patients and others referred to AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals.
AVH was internationally accredited for quality assurance and patient safety as a hospital and health care facility in 2013 and reaccredited in 2016. AVH is also regularly inspected and licensed by the Israeli Ministry of Health.
For additional background information, see Briefing Paper on AVH.
The delay in the disbursement of the 2017 funding is contributing to an acute and severe cash flow crisis for AVH and the other hospitals. It is the intention of the LWF to continue to provide lifesaving treatment to patients from the West Bank and Gaza, but AVH needs the U.S. government to release the 2017 funding as soon as possible so the hospital can make payments to pharmaceutical suppliers of cancer medications, pay salaries and avoid a major interruption in the treatment of patients.
It is extremely urgent that you contact your elected officials today!
- Call the White House hotline (202-456-1111) and use the White House comments page to urge the president to order the release of the $25 million for AVH and the other East Jerusalem hospitals.
- Use the sample letter found in the ELCA Action Center to urge your senators and representatives to contact the White House as well.