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Interview with Order of Malta Ambassador to Palestine Michèle Bowe



Nearly two weeks after the outbreak of the Israeli-Hamas war, Ambassador Michèle Burke Bowe, Head of the Representative Office to the State of Palestine, gives an update on life in Bethlehem, where the Order of Malta runs the Holy Family Hospital.

What are the immediate consequences of the Israel – Hamas war on Bethlehem?

The economic effects on Bethlehem are already devastating. Schools and businesses are closed and 90% of the workforce is without salaries because there are no pilgrimages. Nerves are fraying and daily life has become quite difficult. Grocery prices have skyrocketed, and the stores in Bethlehem have empty shelves.

How has this situation impacted the Holy Family Hospital that the Order of Malta manages since 1990?

Life at Holy Family Hospital has become more challenging. Even so, our Hospital has redoubled its commitment to the mothers and babies of Bethlehem to remain open and to provide care for all, especially for those most in need. Deliveries of babies do not stop for conflict or war. We are the only Hospital in the region that can manage high-risk pregnancies and care for premature babies. Pregnant women do not have options. Despite roadblocks that limit access to Bethlehem, the Hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) is running at near full capacity and the number of deliveries is stable. We have been receiving many calls to transfer in women with high-risk pregnancies.

Is the Hospital experiencing shortages in medicine supplies?

Our resources are very limited now, and we are unable to get the supplies that we urgently need due to restrictions on transportation between cities. Our Hospital’s administration has issued an urgent call to all employees to be vigilant in their use of supplies. Several of our doctors live outside Bethlehem and for them commuting to Bethlehem has become increasingly difficult due to Israeli security closures. Many of our employees are unable to resume normal work schedules. The Hospital has adopted an emergency protocol under which nurses and midwives are asked to work double shifts in order to reduce their exposure to the risks of transportation. Some nights, we are obliged to ask residents and doctors to take two double shifts to maintain staffing in the labor department and the NICU. Staff are becoming creative in finding ways to come to work since gasoline is rationed and hard to find and the checkpoints are increasingly difficult to navigate.

A Hospital doctor shared with me that, “I don’t know how much longer we can continue to operate this way but I sure hope and pray that things don’t get any worse.”

Life in Bethlehem had been already heavily affected by the Covid pandemic…

 Tensions have been building since the start of this year. Fewer patients have been able to contribute towards their care and supply prices have risen. We have been conserving cash and containing costs since the Covid Pandemic. Our staff have not had raises or cost of living increases since 2020. Despite these austerity measures, the Hospital will be out of operating cash at the end of the month.

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