Employees of Makassed Hospital, the largest Palestinian medical center in Jerusalem, went on strike recently because they did not receive their salaries since the beginning of the year.
Omar Abu Zaideh, head of the hospital workers’ union, said some 1,000 employees had not received their salaries for the past three months amid an ongoing financial crisis due to the failure of the Palestinian Authority to cover the hospital’s debts.
The PA is supposed to cover the expenses of patients from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Nearly 80% of the hospital employees are residents of the West Bank who have special permits to enter Israel. The hospital, which has more than 250 beds, has faced a severe financial crisis that has limited its ability to provide healthcare to patients over the past few years.
The strike ended a few days after the PA reportedly agreed to pay part of the debt, currently estimated at NIS 67 million.
On Monday, the hospital was again in the news following unconfirmed reports that during US President Joe Biden’s visit to Israel next month, he may visit the facility, which is located in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of A-Tur on the Mount of Olives.
PA officials on Tuesday said they had not been informed by the US of a plan by Biden to visit the hospital or any part of east Jerusalem.
The hospital’s management declined to comment.
If confirmed, a Biden visit to the hospital would be seen as a fulfillment of the US administration’s commitment to the two-state solution, a PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post.
A Biden visit to east Jerusalem would also be seen as a revocation of former US president Donald Trump’s 2017 recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the official said.
However, the visit itself would be “insufficient and meaningless unless it is followed by other steps by the Biden administration, such as the reopening of the US Consulate in Jerusalem,” he added.
“It would be great news” if Biden visits the hospital in June, a source at Makassed Hospital said.
Makassed Hospital “is not just another ordinary hospital,” the source said. “It is one of the most significant Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem and a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty.”
Thousands of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza Strip receive medical treatment at the hospital every year, the source said.
“We have also been treating many Palestinians who were killed or injured by the Israeli army and police,” the source added. “That’s why many people identify us with the Palestinian cause.”
One of the reasons many Palestinians attach special importance to the hospital is because they see it as one of the few remaining Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem.
Over the past three decades, the Israeli authorities have closed down several Palestinian institutions in the city in accordance with an Israeli law that bans the Palestinians from carrying out political, security and civilian activities in Israel, including east Jerusalem.
Makassed Hospital was previously managed and funded by a private charitable organization that collected donations from several Arab and Muslim countries, particularly Kuwait.
But over the past three decades, the hospital has relied on funds paid by the PA to cover the cost of treatment for thousands of patients from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The PA also has been partially covering the costs of purchasing medicine and medical equipment.
The hospital operates under a license from the Health Ministry and is subject to its regulations. It also has an agreement with Israeli health funds to cover the cost of medical treatment for their clients there.
Makassed Hospital is part of the East Jerusalem Hospitals Network, which also includes Augusta Victoria Hospital, Red Crescent Maternity Hospital, Saint John’s Eye Hospital, Princess Basma Rehabilitation Center and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
In 2018, the network was in the news after Trump ordered that $25 million earmarked for the six Palestinian hospitals be directed elsewhere to ensure that US funds were being spent in accordance with national interests.
“As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will be redirecting approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network,” the State Department said at the time. “Those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere.”
Trump’s move drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians, who said it was within the context of the US administration’s “hostile” policies and measures against the Palestinians and their institutions.
While a Biden visit to the Palestinian hospital may not necessarily undermine Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, it would nevertheless send a message to the Palestinians that the US administration recognizes east Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state.
If it takes place, the visit will also signal to the Palestinians that Trump’s decisions and measures regarding Jerusalem, as a whole, are null and void.
“There would be a lot of symbolism in such a visit, especially if it takes place without the presence of the Israeli security forces,” a Palestinian political analyst told the Post. “This would be a very powerful message from a US president to Israel and the rest of the international community that the Americans consider East Jerusalem an occupied city and don’t recognize Israeli sovereignty over it.
“Every major Palestinian institution in Jerusalem, including Makassed Hospital, has become a symbol of the Palestinian and Arab identity of the city.”