Senior Israeli Doctors Protest Trump's Aid Cut to East Jerusalem Hospitals

Eighteen senior Israeli doctors say sudden $20-million cut will significantly harm the health of Jerusalem's residents

A Palestinian child at Augusta Victoria Hospital, East Jerusalem, September 10, 2018.
Ammar Awad/Reuters

Eighteen senior Israeli physicians have written an open letter protesting the Trump administration’s decision to cut more than $20 million from U.S. support for hospitals in East Jerusalem.

The letter appeared in the American Journal of Public Health, a publication of the American Public Health Association, under the title, “American Funding Cutback to East Jerusalem Hospitals: A Blow to the Health of the City.” In the text doctors made it clear that this broad, sudden funding cut would significantly harm the health of Jerusalem residents.

The letter was initiated by Prof. Mark Clarfield of Ben-Gurion University and Prof. Karl Skorecki, a senior physician at Rambam Medical Center and a lecturer at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. Signatories include the director of Rambam, Prof. Rafi Beyar, the director of Shaare Zedek Medical Center, Prof. Yonatan Halevy, and the dean of Hebrew University Medical School, Prof. Dina Ben Yehuda.

“We wish to protest the recent decision by the U.S. government to withdraw funding of up to $25 million from the East Jerusalem Hospital Network,” they wrote, and listed the six East Jerusalem hospitals expected to suffer from the decision: Makassed Islamic Charitable Hospital, Augusta Victoria Hospital, Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, St. John’s Eye Hospital, Princess Basma Rehabilitation Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital.

“They have been the main providers of tertiary referral care for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip for health services for which the [Palestinian Authority’s] Ministry of Health is unable to provide, such as cancer care, cardiac and eye surgeries, neonatal intensive care, children’s dialysis and physical rehabilitation of children,” they wrote.

The doctors noted that the American people have always been very generous to both Israelis and Palestinians in many fields, including health, and that they were most grateful for this aid. “The U.S. government is of course entitled to decide whom they wish to support, in what domains, and in what way. However, it is evident to the undersigned that a sudden and significant cut of support for medical services will cause imminent and serious harm to the health and well-being of those residents of the city who are well served by these hospitals and medical centers,” they wrote.

The doctors addressed the political motivation behind the decision, writing, “Although we, the authors of this editorial, have diverse political views, as medical professionals we are uniform in our conviction that health cooperation is an area in which we urge decision makers to distance themselves from politically related considerations. We view this sudden withdrawal of support for such health care institutions as anathema to our prime commitment as medical professionals, and we see no benefit whatsoever and only harm accruing from such a decision.”

Accordingly, the doctors asked the U.S. administration to reverse the decision, “to avoid clear and certain medical harm and deleterious consequences for the health of patients served by the hospitals of east Jerusalem.”

Prof. Ziv Gil of Rambam Medical Center, another signatory, said, “This decision can be expected to pose serious problems for treating patients who get medical services in East Jerusalem, both Israeli Arabs and Palestinian Arabs, including life-saving treatments. The sum the Americans plan to cut is equal to the deficit of a large Israeli hospital. It will also increase the pressure on the other hospitals in Israel. It’s a decision that will harm human life and we felt an obligation to protest.”

The Trump administration’s decision to cut the aid was made in September, over the objections of Christian groups in the United States that support some of the hospitals. East Jerusalem hospitals are licensed by Israel and are supervised by the Health Ministry, but a significant number of patients are from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, who come to Jerusalem mainly for complex treatments. The PA’s accumulated debt to the hospitals comes to 280 million shekels ($75.9 million) which is impeding their ability to function. This debt is one reason why almost all the hospitals in East Jerusalem have been in financial crisis or on the verge of bankruptcy in recent years.