Unseen Heroes: Inside West Bank's Advanced Maternity Ward Saving Lives

By Alan Hume | Monday, 17 June 2024 12:00 PM
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Image Credit : Fox News

In the heart of the West Bank, a mere 1,500 steps from the birthplace of Jesus, a Catholic knightly order is striving to ensure that no newborn in the Holy Land is deprived of a bed.

The Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem, of Rhodes and of Malta, more commonly known as the Order of Malta, owns and operates the Holy Family Hospital in Bethlehem. This facility is a beacon of hope for locals of all races and religions, providing much-needed quality maternity care.

According to Fox News, the hospital is equipped with cutting-edge technology and staffed by professionals trained in top-tier medical programs. It is the most advanced maternity ward and neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) in the Palestinian territories, often referred to as the "jewel" of the Order of Malta. It also serves as a refuge for Bethlehem residents caught in the crossfire of the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel in the Gaza Strip.

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"Each baby who is born is a great sign of hope. Every family rejoices, no matter what their economic situation is," Ambassador Michèle Burke Bowe, Head of the Representative Office to the State of Palestine for the Order of Malta, told Fox News. "Palestinians love children. They celebrate children. The families tend to be bigger, and it's just a huge celebration to have a new child."

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Since its handover to the Order of Malta in 1985 by the Sisters of Charity, Holy Family Hospital has delivered over 70% of the babies born in Bethlehem. The hospital, which holds its Catholic identity as sacrosanct, strictly adheres to Catholic ethics regarding medical care and offers its services to all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

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The hospital employs over 220 local Palestinians in various roles, from doctors and nurses to technicians and custodial staff. These jobs are highly sought after in Bethlehem due to their reliable salaries and security. The hospital also handles high-risk pregnancies, such as twins or babies born with genetic disorders.

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"We are a Catholic teaching hospital, but we are also an ecumenical workplace. So, while the majority of our employees are actually Christian, we employ a lot of Muslims — and most notably, we employ 71% women, which I find very hopeful," Bowe told Fox News.

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The Order of Malta's commitment to Catholic ethics extends to its refusal to turn away patients due to an inability to pay for care. "We have two social workers at the hospital that work with the patients [regarding] their psychosocial needs, but these social workers can also adjust the expected family contribution all the way down to zero," Bowe explained.

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Despite the Order of Malta being one of the world's largest non-governmental providers of humanitarian aid, it does not have deep pockets. The resources necessary to operate Holy Family Hospital at a continual financial loss are often raised via private donations. "We take care of the sick and the poor from Bethlehem based on the donations that we collect in the United States at Holy Family Hospital Foundation in Washington, D.C., and from many of the European associations of the Order of Malta and even the Association of the Order of Malta in Hong Kong and Australia," Bowe told Fox News.

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The Order of Malta, founded in the early 11th century, has evolved into a unique international institution similar to a nation-state, albeit without its own territory. It is recognized as a sovereign entity in international law and maintains a non-voting observer role at the United Nations, similar to the Holy See. The order issues its own passports, prints its own stamps, and mints its own currency. It even maintains its own military corps in partnership with the Italian Army.

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The Order of Malta's work in Bethlehem is not without challenges. The ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas has led to a near-total collapse of the tourism industry, leaving local Palestinians without work. This economic stagnation has led to a massive decline in the Christian population of Bethlehem as young people flee to other countries to find financial stability.

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Despite these challenges, the Order of Malta and Holy Family Hospital remain committed to their mission in the area. "As a member of the Order of Malta, the first thing I would say is to pray for peace and reconciliation and understanding," Bowe told Fox News. "And to pray for our efforts at the hospital, which are really so beautiful because they are an ecumenical effort."

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Bowe remains optimistic about the future, attributing her hope to the new families formed at Holy Family Hospital. "When you have a job, and you have a newborn baby, you have hope," she said. This sentiment underscores the resilience and determination of those working tirelessly to provide care and hope in a region marked by conflict and uncertainty.

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