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Local advocates take steps to save Lutheran hospital in Palestine

Members of St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church want Augusta Victoria’s tax exemption restored

A Lutheran hospital serving Arabs in Palestine has been put in jeopardy by tax changes proposed by the Israeli government. Mem-bers of a St. Paul, Minnesota, Lutheran congregation have started a process they hope will save the facility.
Members of St. Anthony Park Lutheran Church, a congregation whose ministry center sits at the front door of Luther Seminary, have begun a campaign to persuade U.S. congresspersons and senators that closing Augusta Victoria Hospital, located on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem, would be a tragedy.
On December 7, nearly a dozen members of St. Anthony Park Church met with an aide to Minnesota U.S. Congresswoman Betty McCollum. Two days later, they were in the office of U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, sharing similar concerns with his aide, Andy Burmeister.
According to Nona Narvaez, a spokesperson for the St. Anthony Park group, there will be additional meetings with other federal legislators representing Minnesota.
At Coleman’s office, the group reminded the senator’s aide that Augusta Victoria receives solid support from Lutherans around the world, through gifts channeled through Lutheran World Federation (LWF).
They voiced their alarm that the hospital, which is the only place Arabs in Palestine can go for a number of specialized medical procedures, could be forced to close if Israel persists in its plan to tax the facility. Augusta Victoria has enjoyed a tax exemption for decades.
Said the Rev. Amy Thoren, one of St. Anthony Park’s pastors, “The hospital does primarily humanitarian work. It serves the poor, people who have no access to the Israeli national health service.” Thoren added that the hospital is really a cooperative effort between Palestinians and Israelis, and argued it would be in Israel’s best interest to support the hospital “and others like it.”
Craig Koester, a member of St. Anthony Park Luther-an and a professor at Luther Seminary, said up to 75% of the referrals who come to the hospital for treatment come through the United Nations.
Another member, Bob Hoyle, who is retired following service with LWF in Jerusalem, explained that the hospital has created “a fund of goodwill” during its decades of service to poor Palestinians. “This could all be lost,” he warned.
Said Hoyle, “If the Israelis let this hospital go down, they’ll be faced with having to deliver health care to the Arabs. That care will cost a lot more than it does now.”
Burmeister said he would share the group’s concerns with Coleman and promised his office would “follow up with the [U.S.] State Department.”