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The significance of President Biden's plan to visit a Palestinian hospital tomorrow


Tomorrow Biden plans to go to a hospital in a Palestinian neighborhood of Jerusalem that U.S. presidents have not visited in the past. Although Biden referred to Jerusalem as Israel's capital, he'll be making the visit without Israeli officials, seen as deference to Palestinian ties to the city. He's expected to announce millions of dollars in U.S. money for the Palestinian hospital network in Jerusalem. NPR's Daniel Estrin takes us inside two of those hospitals to explain the bigger meaning of Biden's visit there and what money can and cannot accomplish.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: When President Biden visits Augusta Victoria Hospital atop the Mount of Olives, he'll see a hundred-year-old stone building with a tall bell tower piercing Jerusalem's skyline and angels carved into the arched entrance. If Biden had the time, he could wander the grounds and see a microcosm of Palestinian life and its daily limitations.


NUHA HASSANEIN: (Speaking Arabic).

ESTRIN: Biden would be able to meet 27-year-old colon cancer patient Nuha Hassanein, who says her health got worse while waiting months for Israel to approve her security permit just so she could leave the blockaded Gaza Strip to get here, the only hospital offering radiation treatment for Palestinians who live in the occupied territories. Or Biden could visit Dr. Ruba Rizk's pediatric open heart surgery ward.

RUBA RIZK: This patient from Gaza. The other one is from Gaza. This is from West Bank.

ESTRIN: Biden could see them, but visits from their parents are restricted by Israel.

RIZK: They are not allowed to come every day. We have a permit but for a few days.



ESTRIN: The neonatal unit has premature babies from Gaza. But the doctor in charge says sometimes their mothers don't have permission to stay with them in Jerusalem. All this is part of Israel's control of Palestinian movement, which Israel says it needs for security. The U.S. used to give these hospitals $25 million a year, but President Trump stopped that to pressure Palestinians on a peace deal with Israel. The Biden White House is reversing that and plans to announce more money tomorrow. Makassed Hospital director Dr. Adnan Farhoud will use the money for kidney and liver transplants not accessible now for West Bank and Gaza Palestinians.

ADNAN FARHOUD: We are willing to do a liver transplant and kidney transplant and bone marrow transplant because we don't have this services.

ESTRIN: The new money helps the cash-strapped Palestinian leadership stand on its feet. That stability is important to the U.S., which doesn't want the region to devolve into violence. When I asked the hospital director, who will meet the president tomorrow, what else he wishes Biden could give, he said...

FARHOUD: Let democracy build all over the world, not even just in the United States. In the Western countries, they have elections each four years. And the people - they can vote, and they select their presidents.

ESTRIN: He means elections for new leadership. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is in the 18th year of what was supposed to be a four-year term. The U.S. has not pressed for elections concerned the Hamas militant group could win. Hospital fundraiser Suhail Miari has another wish.

SUHAIL MIARI: The money is not enough. What we are suffering from - allowing people - the moving in Palestine south and north and Gaza - you know, we are not terrorists. We are human beings. We are doctors. We are teachers. We are - you know, and everybody - they put us in one - you know, in one category.

ESTRIN: He's happy that Biden will be the first sitting U.S. president in this part of East Jerusalem, not just the old city's holy sites but here on the Mount of Olives. Miari sees that as Biden's gesture toward Palestinians' dream of their own capitol here one day. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.