The international community’s financial boycott of the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority will likely lead to a humanitarian crisis, said Dr. Tawfiq Nasser, CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem.
Speaking in a presentation in early April to staff of Lutheran World Relief, a U.S.-based member of the global alliance of Action by Churches Together (ACT) International, Nasser said, “The Palestinian Authority operates many activities for the people – it’s very different from other governments in that it’s actually a deliverer of services. So refusing to pay money to the Palestinian Authority is creating a major humanitarian disaster, removing the biggest provider of healthcare to the Palestinian people.” Nearly 70 percent of Palestinians are insured by the government’s health insurance program, Nasser said.
Israel has begun withholding tax money that rightfully belongs to the Palestinian Authority, and several governments have cut off foreign aid to the Palestinian government because the new leadership is affiliated with Hamas, which they consider a terrorist organization.
As a provider of medical services to people in the Occupied Palestinian Territories through a contract with the Palestinian Authority, the hospital is now facing a severe financial crisis due to the withholding of funds from the Palestinian Authority.
The hospital serves the local population regardless of race, gender, political or religious affiliation, ethnic origin or nationality. “Whatever the political position is regarding the government, the vulnerable should not be punished,” Nasser said. “This withholding of funds is punishing the victim. There should be a mechanism for making a political statement while still preventing humanitarian disaster. Can I tell a child, ‘I cannot dialyze your kidneys because Mom and Dad voted for the wrong political party?’”
What factors have led to this crisis?
Following the Palestinian elections in January, which the Hamas movement won, the Israeli government has suspended the payment of taxes and custom duties owed to the Palestinian Authority (PA) because Israel insists that the new Hamas-led government renounce violence, recognize Israel and accept current peace agreements.
For the same reasons, the United States and the European Union – two members of the so-called Quartet Powers, which also includes Russia and the United Nations – have also cut their aid to the PA.
The PA is the main provider of civil services in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Directly or through non-governmental organizations, the PA operates the largest number of schools, hospitals, clinics and provides many other social and civil services.
The tax revenue payments from Israel, amounting to $55 million per month, along with foreign aid, has been a vital source of Palestinian income and essential for the PA to sustain its budget. With the cutting off of foreign aid, the PA has a severe shortage of cash to fund its education and health services.
In addition, Israel’s building of a wall and fence has divided the Occupied Palestinian Territories and segregated the Palestinian population. The population cannot access vital services and retain mobility in order to seek better employment, schooling, or access to health services or markets for selling their products.
The resulting crisis is felt across the OPT.
Through a contract with the PA, Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem was providing approximately 1,700 medical procedures monthly for Palestinians, such as kidney dialysis, radiation, chemotherapy, endoscopy and head and neck treatments. The blockage of funds to the PA will further endanger the health of patients who are currently receiving treatment as they have few alternatives for medical care.
Augusta Victoria Hospital is owned and operated by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a member of the global alliance Action by Churches Together (ACT) International. On March 17, on behalf of LWF, ACT issued an appeal for US$1.4 million to its members, requesting support for the running costs of the hospital’s services (medications, supplies, clinical staff and transportation) for six months.
During this period the hospital will be seeking a sustainable solution or will consider a reduction in its services.