Church groups in the United States and Europe have begun a worldwide campaign in opposition to the latest last-minute decision by the Donald Trump administration to deny support to six Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem. The financial punishment falls within the efforts of the executive branch in the United States to pressure Palestinian negotiators.
Pauliina Parhiala, a representative of the World Lutheran Federation that runs Jerusalem’s August Victoria Hospital, told Al-Monitor that the decision to stop $25 million in aid — of which the largest parts, $11 million, were earmarked for Makassed and the Augusta Victoria hospitals each — came at the last moment. “We had a visit from USAID last week, and they said that a final decision about the release of the money will be made in the White House even though the money was already approved by Congress.”
Parhiala, a Finnish citizen, said that “friends throughout the United States had worked hard to ensure the funds for the six East Jerusalem hospitals were exempt from the Taylor Force Act that was passed last March by Congress and signed by the president to stop aid for Palestinians.” Parhiala told Al-Monitor that the approved funds were due to be released before the end of the current fiscal year, which expires September 30.
The 127-bed referral hospital provided chemotherapy treatment in 2017 to 21,434 patients; it also provided 19,836 dialysis sessions and 22,349 radiation sessions, mostly to patients from Gaza and the West Bank.
Abeer al-Nabulsi, a volunteer working with Gaza and West Bank patients, told Al-Monitor that the US decision will have a huge impact on people. “Jerusalem residents have health insurance, but the rest of the Gaza and West Bankers have no support for such complicated medical needs. I have talked to doctors and patients, and they are extremely worried.”
Nabulsi said that she and a number of volunteers take turns in helping people get to these hospitals, and many people are waiting in line to get the badly needed cancer treatment that is only available in these hospitals. “The biggest problem is child cancer patients who have absolutely nowhere else to get this kind of treatment,” she told Al-Monitor.
Parhiala also pointed to the fact that “for many, especially children with cancer, this is the only place you get this kind of treatment.” She called the decision to stop aid heartbreaking. “It is a shame that these innocent children are used as a tool for a political conversation that is not theirs and which they have no control over. This is truly heartbreaking.”
Rev. Munther Isaac, a pastor with the Nativity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, told Al-Monitor that the American aid issue reflects a vindictiveness that will not produce any political results. “This is clearly part of the Trump vindictive bullying style and is done as an act of revenge that will not produce any results and will raise serious questions about America’s credibility in terms of its adherence to issues of freedom, rights and justice.”
Wadie Abunassar, a legal adviser to Catholic Churches in Palestine and Israel, told Al-Monitor that what is happening is a cold war against Palestinians. “There is a cold war between the current US administration and the Palestinian leadership in which the Americans are using various tools including financial aid to politically blackmail the leadership.”
The Palestinian government has responded to the US decision by vowing to help cover the deficit. Minister of Health Jawwad Awad said to hospital directors that the Palestinian government will cover $20 million toward Jerusalem hospitals, Parhiala confirmed to Al-Monitor.
Audeh Kawas, a medical doctor and member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches, told Al-Monitor that the actions of the United States are rejected. “We totally reject any act that affects human life and human needs.” Kawwas, who is also a member of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, said that “the support to the hospitals in East Jerusalem came from the American people and the president should not stop this gift, which is small compared to what [the recipients face] as a result of the continued occupation. There is no justification to stop the work of these church-owned hospitals that are duly registered in Israel and are providing care to the needy.”
The response to the US decision has spread in European and American churches. Al-Monitor received a copy of an email sent to American churches and peace groups in which Karin Brown, the coordinator for the Peace Not Walls Campaign and the program director for young adult ministry for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, called on supporters to call the White House “to urge them to ensure there is no interruption of assistance for children and others in need of treatment for cancer and additional life-threatening diseases.”
According to sources in Washington, the advocacy for Jerusalem hospitals will continue as Congress appropriates funds for the coming year. Maryland Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen is said to be taking a lead role in ensuring that Jerusalem hospitals get the needed support in the 2018-2019 foreign aid package that will be debated in Congress this fall.