The North East charity providing unique support in the troubled Middle East

The Nazareth Hospital in Israel is a 21st century medical facility treating over 50,000 patients a year and delivering support to some of the worst affected people in the recent Gaza conflict

Joseph Main, the Nazareth Trust
Joseph Main, the Nazareth Trust

With a North East head office, The Nazareth Trust is a unique organisation providing much needed support in a troubled region. The Journal met its chief executive to find about its work.

The Nazareth Hospital in Israel is a 21st century medical facility treating over 50,000 patients a year and delivering support to some of the worst affected people in the recent Gaza conflict.

What is less well known is that the charity that runs it is based in the North East (Hetton le Hole, to be exact) and headed by a Christian from the west end of Newcastle.

But chief executive officer Joseph Main’s experience in working for non-governmental organisations, such as the St Vincent du Paul’s Society, has placed him in the ideal position to lead the charity - which is helping ever more people in a troubled region.

This year The Nazareth Trust has established a new medical facility and an outreach programme in the West Bank, an area riven by the most recent clashes between Israel and Palestinians.

Mr Main said: “People who are interested in the Middle East will understand the importance of what we’re doing at The Nazareth Trust – which is care to all without distinction.

“We have managed to get the blessings of both the Palestinian and Israeli Ministries of Health for our new West Bank service and when there is this kind of participation there is a sense of reconciliation made possible.”

The Nazareth Trust is 153-year-old organisation with its roots in offering medical care to those who may otherwise not have access to this kind of care.

It runs The Nazareth Hospital in Nazareth but also a 90-year-old nursing school and a new maternity centre in a nearby village.

“The Nazareth Trust is what used to be the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society,” Mr Main said.

“It was set up by an Armenian Doctor who studied in Edinburgh, Dr Kaloost Vartan. He travelled to Nazareth with his wife and set up a four-bed clinic in what was a crossroads village to provide medical care when none existed.

“It’s grown from that small seed to being the main hospital in Nazareth. It has served and survived through the Ottoman Empire, the British Mandate, the formation of the modern State of Israel and recent troubles.

“When you consider the fact that Nazareth itself is essentially an Arab city you see how much more remarkable it is. An Arab city within a Jewish state, surrounded by other Arab states that aren’t supportive of Israel and yet the makeup of the hospital reflects that of the rest of the city.”

Mr Main credits the charity’s Christian background, together with its long history, with allowing it to survive harmoniously in Israel’s largest Arab city.

He said: “The Christian population of Nazareth is around 20%, and about 20% of our staff are Christian. The approach we take is one of 21st century health care underpinned by Christian values of openness, compassion, grace and love to all.

“The Nazareth Trust has built up trusted relationships between Israel’s Arab and Jewish populations alike. Because we’ve been there for five generations there’s not a single individual in that area that hasn’t been touched by our work – parents, friends, grandparents and children are born there, treated there and die there.

“That creates a very strong bond with the hospital itself. The fact that the institution has been there so long allows us to speak so well with that community.”

Joseph Main, the Nazareth Trust
Joseph Main, the Nazareth Trust

The relationships developed by the hospital between Christian, Jewish and Moslem alike has meant Joseph has been able to offer outreach services into areas that have been more affected by conflict than the mainly-stable Nazareth.

Earlier this summer, at the height of the Gaza conflict, The Nazareth Trust worked with a hospital in Gaza – and transported some patients to the Nazareth Hospital to be treated.

“We were able to provide some assistance for casualties to be cared for in our hospital,” Mr Main said.

“This was significant because when you’re dealing with issues like trauma it is important to be able to speak to people in their native language. Because Nazareth is largely Arab we were able to help in that way and we were supported by both Israeli and Palestinian authorities in doing that.”

In addition to this kind of emergency relief work, Mr Main has been instrumental in developing a new healthcare service in the West Bank.

The clinic is in the Tubas area of the Jordan Valley and its opening has made a great difference to the people in the region which has high rates of infant mortality.

He said: “The opening of this clinic is particularly significant for us because we can now deal with Bedouin communities that can’t be reached by other health services.

“The clinic opened after many years of negotiation at top political levels.”

The charity’s entrepreneurial attitude means it looks at where the gaps in healthcare exist – and how they can be plugged - which is what lead to the founding of the West Bank clinic.

Following on from that clinic’s opening, The Nazareth Trust has realised the need for a ‘Medi-box’ programme - the provision of a healthcare box to travelling Bedouin families who may have very sporadic contact with medical professionals.

Mr Main said: “We are also looking to develop a more widely available bursary programme for nursing students.

“We’ve got international links of an extremely high standard and because of that we can bring an extra level of support that might not be as readily available in Gaza or the West Bank.

“It’s very important to us to support the people who need us and in the region we are a trusted conduit of support. Because we’ve been in Nazareth for so long we are an organisation that people trust and support – and that means that we are in the position of being able to support the people that need us.”

With their unique experience of building relationships in the Middle East Joseph is pragmatic about the future of the troubled region.

He muses: “I don’t think a resolution will be found very quickly, all parties would have to want to participate in that.

“But for the Nazareth Trust I am very positive about where we sit. We are able to speak to all parties, with all of the tensions in the region that is something I am very proud of.”

Ultimately though, the Nazareth Trust is a charity which needs donations to keep going.

“Nazareth Trust is a tool by which this kind of reconciliation can be done,” Mr Main said. “We operate to 21st century standards but we don’t get any significant investment funds from the State of Israel which we serve on a daily basis.

“We have to find money and deliver a vital service to the community. We provide the route and means by which reconciliation can be worked out.”

* To donate to The Nazareth Trust or to find out more about its work visit or call (0191) 520 80 30.

The History of the Nazareth Trust

1861 Edinburgh-trained Armenian Doctor Kaloost Vartan arrived in Nazareth and set up a four bed dispensary the only ‘hospital’ between Jerusalem, Damascus and Beirut.

In 1866 Dr Vartan’s work in Nazareth was officially supported by the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS).

In 1906 a site was bought on a hill west of the city for the building of a new hospital. Dr Vartan died in 1908, before building began, but in 1912, the first building was completed.

During World War I the hospital buildings were confiscated for use as a military hospital and officers’ barracks under the Ottoman government. After the war, the site was returned to EMMS and extensive building and renovations took place

In 1921 Dr William Bathgate arrived in Nazareth and took over the administration of the Hospital together with his niece, Dr Doris Wilson.

In 1935 the hospital got electricity, and the installation of its first x-ray machine. A school of nursing was established to train staff for work in the hospital.

World War II and the founding of the state of Israel brought added challenges. Resources were scant and the number of patients was high, including the 20,000 Palestinian refugees who had left the surrounding villages in 1948 to find security in Nazareth.

In 1952 Dr John Tester joined the staff, under his tenure the hospital developed specialised work in departments, upgraded services, and built various buildings.

Dr Hans Bernath came to Nazareth in 1956, and worked as a surgeon. In 1969 he became administrator of the hospital inspiring local and international donors to contribute towards the further development of the hospital.

Dr Bob Martin succeeded him in 1988 and saw the implementation of the National Health Insurance Law, which took effect January 1, 1995. This law restructured health care in Israel and guaranteed basic health care for all.

In 2001, the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society (EMMS) was split into two separate organisations - EMMS Nazareth and EMMS International.

In that year, Dr Bishara Bisharat was appointed as Medical Director, Elia Abdo became General Director of the Nazareth Hospital, and Joseph Main was appointed as CEO of EMMS Nazareth.

In March 2009, the Directors chose ‘The Nazareth Trust’ as the new operating name of EMMS Nazareth.

2011 saw Dr Bishara Bisharat appointed to the position of Head of the Hospital and today the Hospital is affiliated to the Galilee Medical School.

In 2014 a clinic was established in the West Bank. The Nazareth Trust treats casualties from the summer Gaza conflict.


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