From the Worldwide Faith News archives

LWF Appeals Israel Court Ruling on Jerusalem Hospital

From News News <NEWS@ELCA.ORG>
Date Tue, 25 Feb 2003 08:59:01 -0600


February 25, 2003


     CHICAGO (ELCA) -- The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) challenged a
Jerusalem court ruling regarding the tax status of its activities in
Israel and Palestinian-controlled territories, saying the decision, if
implemented, could jeopardize the LWF's humanitarian work in the region,
the LWF said in a Feb. 19 news release.
     If the ruling stands, LWF-operated Augusta Victoria Hospital
(AVH), Jerusalem, will have to pay an employer's tax to the State of
Israel of about $350,000 annually, said Craig Kippels, LWF
representative, Jerusalem, in a February meeting with a group of ELCA
communicators who visited churches and church institutions in the
region.  The hospital could be liable for as much as $700,000 in back
employer's taxes now, he said.
     The LWF is a global communion of 136 Lutheran churches in 76
countries representing some 61.7 million Lutherans worldwide.
     In the appeal, filed Feb. 12, the LWF argued that a Dec. 22, 2002,
decision by the District Court in Jerusalem to revoke a tax-exemption
agreement between the State of Israel and AVH was incorrect.
     The LWF appeal is based on the lack of any lawful notice or
decision by competent authorities to cancel the agreement and failure to
give the LWF the opportunity to argue its case, the news release said.
In its petition, LWF noted it was not given a chance to explain the
substantive implications of the cancellation for itself, for the
population it serves, or for the State of Israel.
     As the appeal states, the result of the cancellation of the tax
exemption agreement will be "the discontinuation or reduction to an
absolute minimum of the activity of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in
East Jerusalem, including all the clinics," discontinuation of the LWF's
health services to "tens of thousands of patients," laying off numerous
workers "in areas in which the unemployment rate is in any case
unbearably high," termination of contracts with suppliers and
substantial income losses to the State of Israel.
     Already, LWF is subsidizing its programs with about $1.5 million
each year to provide "care to the [Palestinian] refugees and vocational
training to Palestinian youth," Kippels said.
     "The additional $350,000 is going to cause LWF to rethink a lot of
the programs that it does in Jerusalem, or simply not be able to provide
those programs," he told the ELCA communicators.
     The LWF has been serving the needs of Palestinian refugees in East
Jerusalem and the West Bank for more than 50 years, and through its
humanitarian work continues to be an important expression of the
Christian presence in the Holy Land. LWF's main activity, AVH, was
established as a hospital after the war of 1948, initially under the
control of the Red Cross and, since 1950, under LWF ownership and
     The LWF's capacity to provide humanitarian services in the region
has been greatly enhanced by a tax exemption agreement originally
established with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in 1966, and adopted by
the State of Israel after the war of 1967.  Recently the government of
Israel has sought to revoke this agreement.  Last December, the
Jerusalem court ruled that the tax exemption agreement had been
cancelled at the end of 2000.
     Any additional tax imposed by the State of Israel "will greatly
hamper the hospital's ability to provide the much-needed health care to
the refugee and disadvantaged segments of the community," said	Dr.
Tawfiq Nasser, AVH chief executive officer. The development of AVH as a
model institution assisting in building a civil society in the
Palestinian areas will be undermined seriously by the decision, he said.
     AVH health services are available to all, but its particular role
is to provide health care to the Palestinian refugee population. About
65 percent of the hospital's patients come from refugee camps. A growing
number of patients turn to AVH for medical services that are not
available elsewhere in the West Bank or Gaza. The hospital plans to open
soon the only radiation oncology center for cancer treatment dedicated
to the West Bank and Gaza populations.
     LWF also operates a network of Village Health Clinics (VHCs) in
five villages near Ramallah. The Palestinian Health Authority (PHA)
relies on the VHCs to provide basic medical care to the area residents,
since the PHA lacks sufficient resources, especially in the current
circumstances, to take full responsibility for such services.
     In addition, LWF has been engaged in vocational training for
Palestinians since 1948, and founded a Vocational Training Center at
Beit Hanina in 1952. Skills acquired in auto mechanics, carpentry,
electronics and telecommunications, among other fields, help to equip
people to become productive members in society and give them hope.
     The Rev. Munib A. Younan, bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran
Church in Jordan (and Palestine) said the effect of the imposition of
tax liability upon the LWF's not-for-profit activities here would
seriously jeopardize its capacity to continue to provide these
humanitarian services, and to deprive large sections of the population
of the West Bank and Gaza strip of essential health care and vocational
training facilities.
     Younan emphasized the growing importance of Christian witness in
Israel and the West Bank, saying LWF's activities in the region,
including AVH itself, stand out as an example of the services that the
church renders to community members irrespective of their religion,
gender, race or political affiliation.
     "This is what we are called to do as a Church.  It is our duty to
serve humankind," he said.  He called on churches worldwide to lobby
actively for the continued presence of Christian witness in the Holy
Land, "which may be threatened in the region today."
-- -- --
     Information about Augusta Victoria Hospital is at on the Web.

     *Lutheran World Information (LWI) provides news and feature
stories about the ministries of LWF.

For information contact:
John Brooks, Director (773) 380-2958 or NEWS@ELCA.ORG

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