health

Lebanon sentenced me to 10 years in prison for helping sick Palestinian children – I consider my work a badge of honour | Jamal Rifi


I have never walked away from a fight involving the wellbeing of children. I have never abandoned the right for Palestinian health workers to train in Israel for the benefit of those same children.

Why is this something I need to speak about publicly now?

In August I discovered through media reports that a military tribunal in Lebanon – the country of my birth – tried me in absentia on the charge of treason. My “crimes” were to fraternise with the enemy (Zionists) and to enter enemy territory (Israel) without authorisation. I am, according to the judgement, a traitor and a collaborator. My sentence is 10 years imprisonment with hard labour.

Should I return to Lebanon I would be arrested. It would be de facto a death sentence.

The facts as laid out in the tribunal documents that declare my guilt includes the following: that I violated the (1954) Anti-Israel Boycott law for being a board member of Project Rozana, whose purpose is to transport and treat critically and chronically ill children from the occupied West Bank and Gaza to hospitals in Israel, and to train Palestinian doctors, nurses and therapists in Israel in order for them to return and build the health capacity of Palestine.

The charges are not disputed. I am a proud and active member of Project Rozana. As a medical doctor and community activist, I would consider that turning away from desperately ill children (be they in Palestine or elsewhere) would be a far greater crime than the ones that have been levelled against me.

I have travelled to enemy territory to meet with Palestinian and Israeli doctors who treat hundreds of Palestinian children every year, who train together to ensure that the health capacity of Palestinian society can develop independently and exponentially, and who transport these children with a carer from their homes to Hadassah and other non-government hospitals in Israel where they are treated and, more often than not, cured of their illnesses and incapacities.

This week I was offered, and accepted without hesitation, the role of deputy chair of Project Rozana. I consider it a badge of honour, not only because of our work that includes providing life-saving ICU-enabled ventilators to Palestinian hospitals at no cost to the Palestinian Authority, but because of the people I sit beside on the board.

They include Australians of the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. Not one of them dares to judge the children we serve, their parents or their families. They represent an ever-widening circle of care that is invested in supporting the most vulnerable among them.

Having declared my affiliation, I would expect (as would happen in any self-respecting sovereign country), that the charges levelled against me by Lebanon and Hizbullah, whose sinister hand is choking life out of the Lebanese people, to be annulled as I was deprived of natural justice and procedural fairness.

I won’t hold my breath. On the contrary, I fully expect them to fume at my audacity: how dare I challenge them? In reply I ask, how dare you deny any child the right to a healthy future? The future you failed to deliver for Lebanese children including your own children and grandchildren. How dare you politicise public health policy in order to serve your interests ahead of those who truly need it?

Let me state my reasons for joining Project Rozana in 2017. This charitable, humanitarian, non-government organisation is committed to a long-term strategy that will encourage the Palestinian health system to operate independently of Israel and emerge as its equal.

In pursuit of that goal, we assist in funding the treatment of seriously ill Palestinian children in Israel’s tertiary hospitals when the Palestinian health system lacks the capacity or the specialists to achieve that.

We encourage the training of Palestinian medical staff in Israel, not only to improve their skills but to create professional relationships that will benefit current and future patients. This is exactly how the medical profession operates in Australia and elsewhere. This is best practice in medicine and Palestinians deserve it as much as anyone.

Today, like every Lebanese person in Australia, I cry for the state of the country where many of my family members still live. The charges against me are the product of a failed system where corruption is rampant, where sectarian allegiances deprive the people of their god-given rights, and who bow before self-serving leaders who care little for a country where more than 80% of its citizens live in poverty.

In the holy Qur’an it says: “Look at yourself before looking at others. Is there no fault in you? If you are truly good, you will look at others with the eye of mercy. You don’t look at others to belittle them.”



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