A Christian-run hospital at the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem has found itself at the center of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Not only is this institution treating the wounded from the recent clashes, but the building has itself come under attack.
On a normal day, many tourists to the Holy Land climb the tower at the Augusta Victoria Hospital for a bird's-eye view of Jerusalem's walled Old City. The hospital's beautiful stone buildings and courtyard are often a welcome relief from the city's hustle and bustle.
But life at the hospital, administered by the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), has not been normal in recent days. For almost two weeks, Augusta Victoria has been cut off from most of the community it serves—Israeli soldiers surrounded the area around the hospital after Palestinians in local riots entered the grounds to seek refuge from the soldiers. The Palestinians were pursued by Israeli soldiers who opened fire without warning, sending terrified hospital staff and patients ducking for cover.
Craig Kippels, chief executive of the hospital and LWF representative in Jerusalem, witnessed the events. "Some of the young Palestinians ran into our property adjacent to the hospital," he told ENI. "Our security began the process of attempting to stem the flow of those youth coming into the property, but in the process, the Israeli military basically came through our main entrance, stormed the length of the property, and began shooting on our property."
Kippels said that in the aftermath of the shootings, the hospital staff brought stretchers and began carrying victims into the emergency ward. At least one of the wounded did not survive.
"Some of the patients who came into our emergency room were wounded with live ammunition," he said. "The wounds that these people received were very, very severe. The patient that died had a head wound that literally blew his skull off."
Kippels added that as a Christian he was horrified by such incidents. "The thing that strikes me as a Christian is that I don't understand how people do this to each other. It seems to be violence without a purpose, I don't understand it." He hoped that both Israelis and Palestinians would do everything in their power to end the fighting.
"I think that both sides can maybe make a stronger effort to find a way to peace," he said.
Kippels said he had appealed to the authorities in Israel to ensure that the hospital did not become a battleground. However, although he had protested strongly over the actions of the Israeli security forces, they had refused to withdraw from the streets outside the hospital.
Tawfiq Nasser, the Palestinian director of the hospital, said that roadblocks had been set up around the institution. This was hampering the staff from providing medical care to Palestinian refugees in Jerusalem and the West Bank. On some days Israeli military turned patients and staff away.
"We are still unable to get some of the critical and very important key people into the hospital," Nasser told ENI. "Even though the checkpoint is not in front of the hospital anymore, the whole area is sealed."
But Nasser said that with Islamic militants calling for another "day of anger" on October 13 the worst of the violence might still lie ahead, and the siege of the hospital could continue.
In Geneva the general secretary of the LWF, Ishmael Noko, has protested to the Israeli government about the soldiers' actions at and near the hospital. "The Lutheran World Federation presence in East Jerusalem and its operation of the August Victoria Hospital are founded upon an ethic of humanitarian medical care and assistance," Noko said. The LWF strongly objected, he said, to "such use" of the hospital premises by the military, describing the soldiers' entry onto hospital premises for military purposes as "a fundamental affront to this humanitarian purpose".
The hospital is known to many thousands of Christian pilgrims who have visited the Church of the Ascension inside the hospital grounds and enjoyed the sweeping views from the bell tower. The church was built on the Mount of Olives, were Jesus is believed to have ascended to heaven.
The compound, which was first completed about 90 years ago and which has the appearance of a medieval fortress, was intended as a hostel for pilgrims to Jerusalem and as a hospice for patients suffering from malaria.
It consists of massive rectangular buildings sheltered inside high stone walls. The complex was built on the orders of Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany after he visited the Holy Land in 1898. He named the institution after his wife.
Copyright © 2000 ENI
Other media coverage of fighting in Jerusalem includes:
Broken Hopes and a Grim Future—Los Angeles Times (Oct. 13, 2000)
List of Key Israel-Palestinian Events—Associated Press (Oct. 13, 2000)
Jews, Arabs Rally Here—Chicago Tribune (Oct. 13, 2000)
Israel hits hard after mob slays 2 soldiers—The Boston Globe (Oct. 13, 2000)
Peace talks unravelled with stunning speed—National Post (Oct. 13, 2000)
Israeli rocket strike on Arafat's compound in response to soldiers' deaths—The Independent (Oct. 13, 2000)
Related Christianity Today coverage includes:
Israelis and Palestinians Pay Tribute to Pope's Pilgrimage to Holy Land (March 29, 2000)
Prepared for Pilgrims? | As Christian tourism surges, Holy Land believers brave troubled future. (Feb. 10, 2000)
Apology Crusaders to Enter Israel (April 15, 1999)
Squeezed by Warring Majorities (November 6, 1998)
How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend (Oct. 5, 1998)
Jerusalem as Jesus Views It (Oct. 5, 1998)
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