Episcopal Church of USA Bishops write to President Obama about a hospital in Gaza

The Honorable Barack Obama

President of the United States

Washington, DC 20001

Dear Mr. President:

We write as bishops of the Episcopal Church, the United States-based member of the 80 million member worldwide Anglican Communion. As longtime advocates for peace and reconciliation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian territories, we stand in partnership both with the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East and with tens of millions of Christians, Muslims, and Jews around the world who dream of a future of peace and harmony in the land that is holy to all the children of Abraham. We have been, and remain, strong supporters of your Administration’s work toward a two-state solution in which a secure and universally recognized Israel lives alongside a secure, viable, and independent Palestinian state.

We write now, however, in a moment of true emergency in the life of the Gaza Strip and its more than two million residents. We’ve just learned that after nearly two decades of partnership, the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) has abruptly terminated, without public justification, its contractual financial support for Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza City. This change was effective at the end of May and threatens to debilitate the hospital, its 120-person staff, and the many thousands of Gazans who rely on it for primary and urgent care and treatment.

Mr. President, we write to request your immediate and personal intervention with the relevant UN personnel to ensure the reversal of this decision, which threatens to have disastrous consequences for the more than two million residents of Gaza, already living in conditions of profound humanitarian need.

Al Ahli Hospital has been managed by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East since 1982. It provides primary and emergency care to the almost exclusively Muslim population in Gaza, and does so without proselytizing or discriminating on the basis of religion, ethnicity, politics, or social identification. It is the only facility of its sort in the Gaza Strip that is not run by the Hamas government and as such, it is able to provide care without any outside interference or political calculation. Its continued operation thus is in the inherent interests of the United States government. It is not hyperbole to say either that the humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip are as severe as any on earth, or that Al Ahli Hospital is a rare and absolutely vital source of genuine good news in that context. The decision of UNRWA to terminate its support for the hospital is utterly indefensible and must be reversed.

Until this month, UNRWA supported the hospital in the amount of $80 per occupied bed per day for its complement of 50 inpatient beds. This helped to cover surgery, medicine, anesthesia, and diagnostic services. It also has important implications for outpatient care. In supplement to this $80 per day, patients have paid $10 per day, with an additional $20 being provided by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem, charitable organizations, and other donors from around the world. In sum, UNRWA’s support has amounted to approximately $1 million per year, or nearly half of the hospital’s $2.4 million budget serving 4800 inpatients and 42,000 outpatients annually.

Mr. President, in asking for your personal intervention, we appeal to you as a person of faith who has spoken stirringly of the need for reconciliation between the children of Abraham. Al Ahli hospital is doing the work you have articulated, but in order to continue, it needs the support of friends from around the world. The Book of Exodus speaks of the Israelites sojourning in the desert led by God, who fed them daily with manna that came each morning with the dew. While God surely could have provided them instantaneously with food for their full journey, he asked them instead to gather the manna daily and put their trust in the sufficiency of divine goodness and generosity to provide for their need on an ongoing basis. Many years later, in the same part of the world, the daily support of donors to efforts like Al Ahli hospital means life and death on a level no less consequential than the manna that fed the children of Israel. As professionally superb as the hospital is, it cannot survive without international donor support, the largest portion of which has heretofore come from UNRWA.

As you deliberate how to approach this important matter, please know that our Presiding Bishop, the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, and our staff in Washington, are available to consult and assist as needed. They are in regular contact with the Anglican (Episcopal) Bishop in Jerusalem, the Right Reverend Suheil Dawani, who ultimately oversees the hospital’s operations. Please also be assured that our prayers are ever with you, and that we remain

Your brothers and sisters in Christ,

The Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori Presiding Bishop and Primate And 101 Bishops of the Episcopal Church The Episcopal Church: www.episcopalchurch.org

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