Lebanon Sentenced Me to 10 Years in Prison for Helping Sick Palestinian Children – I Consider My Work a Badge of Honor | Jamal Rifi
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I have never strayed from a fight involving the welfare of children. I never gave up the right of Palestinian health workers to train in Israel for the benefit of those same children.
Why is this something I need to talk about publicly now?
In August, I discovered through media reports that a military tribunal in Lebanon – my country of birth – tried me in absentia for treason. My “crimes” were to fraternize with the enemy (the Zionists) and enter enemy territory (Israel) without permission. I am, according to the judgment, a traitor and a collaborator. My sentence is 10 years in prison with hard labor.
If I returned to Lebanon, I would be arrested. It would be a de facto death sentence.
The facts set out in court documents declaring my guilt include the following: that I violated the anti-Israel boycott law (1954) as a board member of the Rozana Project, the purpose of which is to transport and to treat critically and chronically ill children from the occupied West Bank and Gaza in hospitals in Israel, and to train Palestinian doctors, nurses and therapists in Israel to return and strengthen the health capacity of Palestine.
The charges are not in dispute. I am a proud and active member of the Rozana Project. As a doctor and community activist, I would consider turning away desperately sick children (whether in Palestine or elsewhere) a far more serious crime than those committed against me.
I traveled 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 capacities of Palestinian society can develop independently and exponentially, and who transport these children with one person from their homes in Hadassah and other non-governmental hospitals in Israel where they are treated and, more often than not, cured of their illnesses and disabilities.
This week, I was offered, and accepted without hesitation, the role of Vice-President of the Rozana Project. I consider this a badge of honor, not only because of our work which includes providing life-saving ventilators to Palestinian hospitals at no cost to the PA, but also because of the people I sit on the board next to. administration.
They include Australians of Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. None of them dare to judge the children we serve, their parents or their families. They represent an ever-widening circle of care that invests itself 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 accusations leveled against me by Lebanon and Hezbollah, whose sinister hand is choking the lives of the Lebanese people, would be quashed as I was deprived of natural justice and procedural fairness.
I won’t hold my breath. On the contrary, I expect them to fulminate in front of my audacity: how dare I challenge them? In response, I ask, how dare you deny a child the right to a healthy future? The future you failed to bring to Lebanese children, including your own children and grandchildren. How dare you politicize public health policy to serve your interests before those who really need it?
Allow me to outline the reasons why I joined Project Rozana in 2017. This charitable, humanitarian and non-governmental organization is committed to a long-term strategy that will encourage the Palestinian health system to operate independently of Israel and become its equal.
In pursuit of this goal, we help fund the treatment of critically ill Palestinian children in Israel’s tertiary hospitals when the Palestinian health system lacks the capacity or the specialists to achieve it.
We encourage the training of Palestinian medical personnel 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 works in Australia and elsewhere. It is the best practice in medicine and the Palestinians deserve it as much as anyone.
Today, like every Lebanese in Australia, I cry for the state of the country where many of my family still live. The charges against me are the product of a broken system where corruption is endemic, where sectarian allegiances deprive the people of their divine rights, and which bow to selfish leaders who care little for a country where no more. 80% of its citizens live in poverty.
In the holy Quran it says: “Look at yourself before you look at others. Is there no fault in you? If you are really good, you will look at others with an eye of mercy. You don’t look at others to put them down.
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