DEATH-THREAT DOCTOR SALUTES THOSE ON FRONTLINE
1 JUNE 2019, BY SASCHA O’SULLIVAN, WEEKEND AUSTRALIAN REPORTER
Amid threats to his life because of his charity work, Lebanese-Australian doctor Jamal Rifi is frank about groups opposed to medics working on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian border.
“They want us to be insular while I want my community to be open; they want us to be narrow-minded while I want my community to be open-minded; they want us to not engage while I want my community to engage,” he said.
The Australian revealed yesterday that Dr Rifi, a GP in western Sydney, had alerted police to a potential threat to his life after a campaign to stir up hatred against him.
A Beirut media outlet has launched a campaign distorting his service with the Australian-initiative Project Rozana, which transports critically ill Palestinian children to Israeli hospitals for treatment, drawing on volunteers from both sides and thereby building trust.
His enemies have accused him of “working for Zionists”.
Yet he insists his troubles are nothing compared to what many doctors endure to save the lives of Palestinian children.
Two of those doctors have been in Sydney to highlight the work of Project Rozana.
Esti Galili-Weisstub, born in Israel, and A. Abdel-Rahman, born in the Palestinian Territories, are united in their desire to help critically injured children.
Dr Galili-Weisstub helped launch the Binational School of Psychotherapy, which trains psychologists to work with Palestinian children who have been traumatised by conflict.
Dr Abdel-Rahman has also spearheaded a cross-border project, Road to Recovery, which ensures safe passage across checkpoints for sick Palestinian children to access lifesaving medical treatment in Jerusalem.
“Compared to what I go through with the threats against me, (those volunteers) face much more pressure,” Dr Rifi said.
“Road to Recovery always existed on the Israeli side, but we knew that we needed to do it on the Palestinian side because … it is a practical, tangible solution to give sick kids and their parents the benefit of medical care.”
Dr Galili-Weisstub told The Weekend Australian: “The Binational School was always the central big dream. Even though there are several training institutes for clinical psychologists or psychiatrists within Israel, there are none in the West Bank or Gaza.”
Dr Abdel-Rahman said working in a conflict zone was like waiting for a natural disaster.
“It’s like a volcano, it has quiet times and it has hard times,” Dr Abdel-Rahman said of working in the West Bank.
Dr Rifi said the focus of Project Rozana’s work was, and always had been, on the children.
“I want all of these people who are attacking us … I just want them to look into the eyes of one of these kids and their mums and tell them they are not allowed to have lifesaving treatment because the treatment is in East Jerusalem.”
Both Dr Galili-Weisstub and Dr Abdel-Rahman have persevered in building bridges despite the pressures bearing down on them.
“In many, many ways it can seem helpless in the face of political reality, (but) we feel extremely confident on a human, personal level that we are making a change,” Dr Galili-Weisstub said.
“By encouraging open discussion, introspection, and understanding of each other it does actually build bridges that will benefit the whole area.”
Dr Rifi kept his fears about the death threats to himself during Project Rozana’s first big fundraiser in Sydney last month, which brought together 320-plus Muslims, Jews and others, raising $180,000.
Project Rozana takes its name from four-year-old Rozana Salawhi, who suffered life-threatening injuries in 2012 after she fell from the ninth floor of a Ramallah apartment block.
Her mother insisted she be ferried across the border to a hospital in Jerusalem.