“A catastrophe is imminent”

16 Oct 2023

Dr Fadi Atrash, the head of the Augusta Victoria Hospital in East Jerusalem, talks about how the war in the region affects patients from Gaza and the West Bank, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the impact on the hospital staff.


AVH - Dr Fadi Atrash

Dr Fadi Atrash, CEO of the LWF Augusta-Victoria-Hospital. Photo: LWF/ S. Gallay 

Interview with Dr. Fadi Atrash, CEO of Augusta-Victoria-Hospital in East Jerusalem 

(LWI) - On the tenth day of the war in Israel-Palestine, concerns are mounting over the fate of civilians. Several thousand have been reported killed and injured, and hundreds of thousands are displaced in Gaza. The war is also affecting the patients and staff of Augusta Victoria Hospital (AVH) in East Jerusalem. 

The AVH, which is owned and operated by The Lutheran World Federation (LWF), provides specialized care for cancer patients and those needing hemodialysis. Many patients are unable to access life-saving treatment or are stuck at the hospital, watching a humanitarian disaster unfold in their homeland.  

In this interview, Dr Fadi Atrash, Chief Executive Officer of the hospital, talks about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the impact of the war on patients and staff. 

Dr Fadi, can you give us an update on the situation at the hospital?  

We are in an emergency, and we do not know how things will develop. I have set up an emergency team in the hospital to coordinate our work. We have enough staff on board 24 hours a day, to guarantee the operation of the hospital and reduce the need for staff travel between the hospital and the West Bank villages where they live. Traveling between home and hospital is becoming increasingly risky these days because of the increasing settler violence in the West Bank. 

Our mission is humanitarian, we are on the side of our patients and those affected by war and conflict. 

AVH - chemotherapy

A patient receives chemotherapy. The expensive drugs are not available in Gaza or the West Bank. Photo: LWF/ Albin Hillert

Most of the cancer patients who are treated at AVH come from the West Bank and Gaza. How is the situation affecting them? 

40 percent of our cancer patients come from Gaza. Since the start of the war last Saturday, 44 patients from Gaza were scheduled for chemotherapy and 28 for radiation. None of them got out.  We have another 60 scheduled for chemotherapy and 20 for radiation this week, but they will not come. 

We have 71 people from Gaza in the hospital right now, patients and their companions. They cannot return home. We have put them up in a nearby hotel or accommodated them in the hospital.  

The West Bank patients also have great difficulty reaching the hospital, because of the closure between the West Bank cities and villages, and reports of violent clashes between settlers and the local population. People moving between the settlements are in danger of being shot at. On Thursday, we had radiation sessions scheduled for 140 patients from the West Bank, but only 40 of them could reach the hospital. If the treatment for cancer is interrupted, it will of course affect the prognosis negatively. 

On top of their very painful journey of cancer treatment, they (our patients) are losing family members and their homes.

– Dr Fadi ATRASH, CEO Augusta-Victoria-Hospital

What are you doing at AVH? 

We offer accommodation for patients who need it. We keep the patients for hemodialysis in the hospital, because they need a session every other day, and if they miss it, they will die. It’s a life-saving treatment. We are keeping almost all the children from the West Bank who receive hemodialysis in the hospital, to guarantee the continuity of their treatment, and the safety of them and their families. 

Apart from these special measures, we continue operating as usual, treating cancer and kidney patients. 

How are the patients from Gaza dealing with the news they receive? 

It is very, very sad and very difficult for them. On top of their very painful journey of cancer treatment, they are losing family members and their homes. They watch the news all day, trying to get into contact with their families. They see all that destruction and they are far from their loved ones. They are suffering. Our nurses and psychosocial teams are trying to be with them all the time. It’s not easy to support them in this situation.

AVH - child

A child in the pediatric ward. The hospital staff kept many patients at the hospital, so they would not miss life-saving treatment. Photo: LWF/ Albin Hillert 

In previous years, AVH has sent medical teams to Gaza to care for the wounded after air strikes. Is that possible? 

No, it is not possible. This time is different. Yesterday morning I called a friend who works for UNOCHA [United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs]. He is now in a United Nations shelter in Gaza, and told me: “There is no electricity, no water, and no humanitarian access, not even for blood transfusions. The hospitals are overwhelmed with injured and casualities. Lightly injured people die because there is no medicine, there are no blood products, or they cannot get to the hospital in time.” 

We from Augusta Victoria Hospital together with the East Jerusalem Hospital Network appealed to the international community a couple days ago, warning that the situation is overwhelming for the hospitals in Gaza and a catastrophe is imminent.  

People are very afraid in Gaza, their voices are not heard, they are worried about tomorrow and what will happen to them. 

AVH - hospital

The hospital on the Mount of Olives is a landmark in East Jerusalem. Photo: LWF/ Albin Hillert 

How does the situation affect the staff at AVH? 

Three of our employees here in Jerusalem are from Gaza, they cannot go home. One of them lost two cousins after the destruction of their apartment. They are in a very difficult situation, they want to go back to their families, and we know no one can go in.  

It affects them deeply, to see their relatives, their fellow Palestinians being killed in Gaza, and to know they are helpless. We cannot send anything to Gaza. What we are trying to do is increase the daily communication with our staff, trying to put them together so they can talk and support each other. We also have 7 staff inside Gaza. 

What is your message? 

Most importantly now is  a ceasefire and to open a humanitarian corridor for injured and sick people to be treated and for supply, fuel, water and food to enter. Everyone here is against killing of civilians. There is no doubt about this, whatever your origin, your race, your religion, as a human being. The human response should be equal on both sides: Guarantee the safety of children, women and innocent people, in Israel and Palestine, and allow for humanitarian and medical aid to reach those who need it.

Augusta-Victoria-Hospital is calling for donations to support the additional accommodation cost of patients and staff from Gaza and the West Bank, who cannot return home, and for medical supplies to treat people injured in the conflict. 

LWF/C. Kästner-Meyer