US cuts $20m in funding for East Jerusalem hospitals

The Trump administration on Friday slashed more than $20 million in funding for church-run hospitals in East Jerusalem despite having earlier promised that the medical centers would be exempt from massive US aid cuts to Palestinians. (AFP)
Updated 08 September 2018

US cuts $20m in funding for East Jerusalem hospitals

  • Trump called for a review of US assistance to the Palestinians earlier this year.
  • Last month, the Trump administration said it would redirect $200 million in Palestinian economic support funds for programs in the West Bank and Gaza amid a deteriorating relationship with the Palestinian leadership.

AMMAN: The Trump administration on Friday slashed more than $20 million in funding for church-run hospitals in East Jerusalem despite having earlier promised that the medical centers would be exempt from massive US aid cuts to Palestinians.

The decision by the US executive will leave facilities such as the World Lutheran Federation’s August Victoria Hospital and St. John’s Eye hospital struggling to provide medical help to thousands of Palestinians.

Bishop Sani Ibrahim Azar, head of the Lutheran church in Jordan and Palestine, told Arab News that the decision by Washington ruined his day. 

“I woke up to this terrible news. We had been happy for a few months when we learned that our hospital would be exempt from the cuts to Palestinians,” he said.

 Azar said he had been shaken by the news. “The hospital has been on the edge and I am not sure how we can continue if this support is stopped suddenly.”

The hospital’s oncology department is the only high-quality facility serving Palestinians, he said. 

“We are the one place that Palestinians with cancer and other ailments come to. Patients will be hurt a lot by this decision, especially children who have special unit.”

Dan Shanit, an Israeli doctor involved in the establishment of the oncology department, described the US decision as inhuman.

“Defunding a cancer department or any other critical medical facility is inhuman and will not change anything,” he said.

Shanit, who worked for the Peres Peace center, told Arab news that the decision was irrational.

 “Imposing financial pressure on a medical facility for political purposes is unacceptable and idiotic,” he said. “The American administration is not acting rationally.”

The Israeli doctor said that if hospitals such as August Victoria were unable to treat serious cancer cases in east Jerusalem, patients would have no choice but to attend Israeli hospitals.

If the oncology department is closed, patients will be moved to the Israeli Hadash, Shanit said. 

“The problem is that Hadasah will be able to treat patients from Jerusalem but someone will have to cover the cost of all other Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. 

“I see it as a miserable situation that is ruining whatever hope is left of peace-building.”

 Howard Sumka, former head of the USAID mission in the West Bank and Gaza, said the US had been a long-time supporter of the East Jerusalem hospitals and had helped the facilities to provide high-level care not otherwise available to Palestinians.

The US administration is squeezing the most vulnerable Palestinians in a bid to force the Palestinian Authority to capitulate to Israeli and US demands for negotiations, he said.

“This sort of inhumane tactic hasn’t worked before,” he said. 

On his Twitter account, Sumka asked if the US effort to reset policy on Israel and Palestine was “a deft maneuver to shake up 25-plus years of feckless peace-making or a foolish gamble that will leave the Middle East in turmoil?”

Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

Updated 17 min 4 sec ago

Thailand says US man’s seasteading home violates sovereignty

BANGKOK: Thai authorities have raided a floating home in the Andaman Sea belonging to an American man and his Thai partner who sought to be pioneers in the “seasteading” movement, which promotes living in international waters to be free of any nation’s laws.
Thailand’s navy said Chad Elwartowski and Supranee Thepdet endangered national sovereignty, an offense punishable by life imprisonment or death.
It filed a complaint against them with police on the southern resort island of Phuket. Thai authorities said they have revoked Elwartowski’s visa.
Elwartowski said in an email Thursday that he believes he and Supranee — also known as Nadia Summergirl — did nothing wrong.
“This is ridiculous,” he said in an earlier statement posted online. “We lived on a floating house boat for a few weeks and now Thailand wants us killed.”
The couple, who have gone into hiding, had been living part-time on a small structure they said was anchored outside Thailand’s territorial waters, just over 12 nautical miles from shore. They were not there when the navy carried out their raid on Saturday.
The Thai deputy naval commander responsible for the area said the project was a challenge to the country’s authorities.
“This affects our national security and cannot be allowed,” Rear Adm. Wintharat Kotchaseni told Thai media on Tuesday. He said the floating house also posed a safety threat to navigation if it broke loose because the area is considered a shipping lane.
Seasteading has had a revival in recent years as libertarian ideas of living free from state interference — such as by using crypto-currency including Bitcoin — have become more popular, including among influential Silicon Valley figures such as entrepreneur Peter Thiel. Elwartowski, an IT specialist, has been involved in Bitcoin since 2010.
Several larger-scale projects are under development, but some in the seasteading community have credited the Andaman Sea house with being the first modern implementation of seasteading.
“The first thing to do is whatever I can to help Chad & Nadia, because living on a weird self-built structure and dreaming of future sovereignty should be considered harmless eccentricities, not major crimes,” Patri Friedman, a former Google engineer who heads The Seasteading Institute, said on his Facebook page.
The floating two-story octagonal house at the center of the controversy had been profiled and promoted online by a group called Ocean Builders, which touted it as a pilot project and sought to sell additional units.
The group describes itself as “a team of engineering focused entrepreneurs who have a passion for seasteading and are willing to put the hard work and effort forward to see that it happens.”
In online statements, both Elwartowski and Ocean Builders said the couple merely promoted and lived on the structure, and did not fund, design, build or set the location for it.
“I was volunteering for the project promoting it with the desire to be able to be the first seasteader and continue promoting it while living on the platform,” Elwartowski told The Associated Press.
“Being a foreigner in a foreign land, seeing the news that they want to give me the death penalty for just living on a floating house had me quite scared,” Elwartowski said. “We are still quite scared for our lives. We seriously did not think we were doing anything wrong and thought this would be a huge benefit for Thailand in so many ways.”
Asked his next step, he was more optimistic.
“I believe my lawyer can come to an amicable agreement with the Thai government,” he said.