The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has challenged a Jerusalem court ruling which will charge them such high taxes they may have to close.. 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. The hospital could be liable for as much as $700,000 in back employer's taxes now, he said. 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," he 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." . 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 management. 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. 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 centre 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 Centre 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 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." For more information on the Hospital visit: www.avh.org .
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