DOCTOR JAMAL RIFI SENTENCED IN ABSENTIA BY LEBANESE MILITARY TRIBUNAL

Jamal Rifi has been working on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis in south-west Sydney. Picture: ABC News

Below is a recent news article.

24 AUGUST 2021, BY DAVID LIPSON

  • Jamal Rifi says a Lebanese military tribunal has sentenced him in absentia to 10 years in prison
  • He says the charge of collaboration relates to his work with an NGO that helps the Palestinian healthcare system
  • Dr Rifi is administering vaccinations in south-west Sydney during the latest COVID-19 outbreak

At a clinic in the heart of south-west Sydney, doctor Jamal Rifi has been working day and night to get vaccines in arms — he is even socially distancing from his own wife to keep his family safe.

Monday night, he received news that has made this difficult year even tougher.

“I was informed by my brother that a journalist close to Hezbollah in Lebanon made an announcement that the Lebanese military tribunal sentenced me to 10 years’ imprisonment for being a collaborator and a traitor with the enemy,” he told the ABC’s PM program.

“I am upset, definitely, because no-one wants to be labelled a traitor and it is a distraction from the work I am doing right now.”

That enemy, according to Lebanese law, is Israel.

Lebanon and Israel both do not allow travel to the other country, except with government authorisation.

Dr Rifi says charge is targeting his work with NGO

Dr Rifi believes the charge is related to his work with Project Rozana, which helps provide medical training for Palestinian medical workers and helps organise the transfer of Palestinian patients to hospitals in Israel.

Since 2017, Dr Rifi has worked with the organisation in Australia, which runs in collaboration with members of the local Jewish community.

Jamal Rifi with his wife Lana. Picture: ABC

He said most of the beneficiaries of the group’s work were Palestinian children.

“We have Palestinian volunteers who pick up the patient and their carer — Mum, grandmother — and they take them from their home to the checkpoints or the border, they cross the checkpoint or border, and they will be picked up by an Israel volunteer who will take them to the hospital,” he said.

Last year, Project Rozana helped prepare the stricken Palestinian health system for the onslaught of COVID-19.

“The ventilators were worth their weight in gold,” he said.

“We managed to send in May of last year 30 ventilators to the Palestinian Authority.

“They have been used in hospitals private and public and in Gaza.”

Dr Rifi blames ‘corrupt’ system

Dr Rifi said it was his work over four years with Project Rozana that had seen him labelled a collaborator, and sentenced in absentia.

It is something he blames on the influence of Hezbollah as well as a corrupt ruling class looking to shift attention from themselves as Lebanon faces a series of crises.

“This is a reflection of the Lebanese corrupt system, which failed to protect their own citizens in Lebanon and now they are chasing expatriates outside of Lebanon for doing a good deed, for speaking the truth and for standing our ground by exposing their failures,” he said.

Dr Rifi said he believed there was a deeper motive behind the charge against him, saying it was an attempt to smear his brother’s reputation in Lebanon.

His brother, Ashraf Rifi, is the former director-general of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces (ISF), which acts as a national police and security force.

“He is one of the loudest voices against Hezbollah doing everything as per master, Iran,” Dr Rifi said.

“They wanted to affect his name and reputation and they are using my humanitarian work to label me, and through me to my brother, as being traitors and that sort of thing, to minimise his voice.”

The sentence means he cannot return to visit family in Lebanon.

But he is more frustrated that powerful forces are more concerned with pursuing him than fixing the economic situation in Lebanon, which is currently experiencing a fuel shortage and currency inflation.

“People [are] struggling to find their medicines, their bread, their petrol,” he said.

“People live with no electricity and don’t have access to water. In a country where nothing is working, for them to pay such attention to such a minute detail, I must be doing something right.”

STATEMENT FROM PROJECT ROZANA

25 August 2021
Re: Dr Jamal Rifi AM


Project Rozana undertakes life-saving and vital work in Palestine and Israel with a primary focus on children and health, building better understanding between Israelis and Palestinians via health initiatives. To remain effective and properly serve the children and families who need urgent and necessary medical treatments, and to protect our brave and committed volunteers and staff, we cannot, and will not express political views on regional issues, or make comment on the rights or wrongs of lines on a map. We are neutral, secular, and interested only in life giving and life sustaining results for the people whom we seek to aid. This is our proven strength, building bridges between humans and finding immediate solutions where others falter.

Therefore, it was with some dismay, that yesterday we learned of the sentencing of our colleague, Dr Jamal Rifi AM (Board Member of International Humanitarian agency, Project Rozana), to ten years imprisonment by a Lebanese Military Court. The hearing was undertaken ‘in absentia’ and shrouded in mystery. Dr Rifi was unaware of the proceedings and has lived and worked as a respected medical doctor in Australia for many, many years. Dr Rifi is an Australian citizen. He is currently spearheading the main battle against Covid-19 in his local LGA, in Sydney, and has also been instrumental in the Arabic speaking and immigrant communities, instigating publicity campaigns about the necessity of vaccination and containment of the virus. He has been acknowledged by the Government as vital to fighting this disease and its spread within Sydney’s populace.

It has been alleged that Dr Rifi is guilty of ‘collaboration’, of ‘working and helping the enemy’, in this case, it would appear to refer to his life-saving humanitarian work (often medical based) with Project Rozana, working long distance from Australia – and helping oversee medical assistance to chronically and critically ill children which is being undertaken in Israel and Palestine by Project Rozana.

In the distorted world of Dr Rifi’s detractors the concept of providing humanitarian medical outreach to critically ill Palestinian children needing treatment within hospitals in Israel, is a bridge too far and, it would appear, unacceptable to those who preach hate and conflict. Daily, Project Rozana’s volunteers ferry sick from their homes in the Palestinian Territories to hospitals in Israel. This transport is free, as is the medical treatment the children receive. It is undertaken with the complete knowledge and support of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli Government.

In these turbulent and uncertain times, humanitarian values and medical based programmes are more vital than ever in building people to people bridges of hope.

The Board of Project Rozana calls on Australia’s political leaders, community elders in leadership roles, and all compassionate and sensible people everywhere, to be united in their support of Dr Jamal Rifi AM in his continuing work in the health and humanitarian sectors.

The Australian government has made representations to Lebanon and a statement was made in the Parliament by Tony Burke MP on 26 August 2021.

Below is a published opinion article by Dr Rifi in response.

MORAL CORRUPTION OF LEBANESE ELITE PUNISHES GOODWILL

Dr Jamal Rifi, sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail, gives Nurse Cecilia Vellutini her second Covid vaccination in Sydney. Picture: Chris Pavlich

28 AUGUST 2021, BY JAMAL RIFI

I was vaccinating a group of severely disabled people at Sydney’s Macquarie Hospital a few Saturdays ago when a nurse pointed to the television.

Thousands of anti-vaxxers were marching through the centre of the city. The image of those people wilfully disregarding the public health orders and putting at risk the vulnerable people I was trying to help was too much. I felt like someone had stabbed me in the back.

I limped through the rest of the afternoon and drove back home to western Sydney. My wife, Lana, had cooked me dinner but I was too tired. I had a drink of water and went straight to bed.

A few days later I found blood in my urine. A later scan at hospital showed I had kidney stones, which required a small procedure to insert some stents. I’ve kept working through the pain as much as I can because I care so deeply about protecting my community against Covid-19.

But a different sickness hit me this week: that of the corrupt Lebanese political system. My brother, a former justice minister, called to say that I’d been sentenced to 10 years in jail for being a traitor.

All for another cause I care deeply about: the fate of vulnerable Palestinians who require healthcare in Israeli hospitals.

I help Palestinians through an Australian charity called Project Rozana. Rozana funds the transportation of sick and vulnerable Palestinian children from the West Bank and Gaza to Israeli hospitals. It assists the training in Israeli hospitals of Palestinian doctors and nurses who take their skills back to hospitals in Hebron and Nablus and pass them on to others.

Last year, as Covid-19 swept through the Middle East, things were grim in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian Authority contacted Rozana for urgent help and our charity raised $500,000 to buy 35 ventilators that were sent over to the region.

Dr. Rifi AM and his wife Lana at their home next door to his Belmore surgery. Picture: Jane Dempster

In December Rozana worked with the Australian government to secure $1m to give to the World Health Organisation to spend on sick Palestinians in Gaza.

Project Rozana is an Australian success story that I represent as a proud Australian-Lebanese Muslim with an abiding love for the Palestinian cause.

It’s part of the reason I was so happy to join the board when contacted by its chairman, Ron Finkel. In Ron, I met a man who cares just as much as I do about the future of the Middle East. He just happens to be Jewish.

In 2019, Project Rozana held the “Hand in Hand” dinner with special guest Izzat Abdulhadi, Palestinian representative to Australia. He had been instrumental in encouraging the establishment of the charity in 2013. The dinner was live-streamed on the internet.

The next thing I heard was that a clip of the dinner had been published on Lebanese television. I received a call from a journalist who asked me if I’d been to Israel.

I don’t tell lies. I replied that I had been to Palestine in 2017 in a formal tour with Rozana that was organised in partnership with the Palestinian Authority. I travelled as an Australian citizen. But as a dual Lebanese citizen, entering Israel is a crime.

Some in Lebanon labelled me a traitor. It became too dangerous to travel back to the country I’d left as a 20-year-old, because I risked being arrested on return. I wasn’t able to see my elderly mother before she died in Tripoli last year.

But then I didn’t hear anything more.

And then, out of the blue, I received word from my brother of my 10-year jail sentence, tried in absentia through the military court.

I was never given an opportunity to defend myself. It’s absurd that a civilian is tried in a military court, and it was something my brother was trying to overturn when he was in government.

What’s even worse is that they’ve done this while Lebanon, a country that so many Australians care deeply about, is failing.

There’s no power. Money is locked in the banks. My medical colleagues worry about how they’ll keep the ventilators working on critically ill Covid-19 patients.

The Lebanese elite – and the Iranian-funded militia group Hezbollah, which effectively controls the government – has failed to hold anyone to account for the port blast in Beirut last year.

Yet they see fit to target me and my brother, one of their political enemies.

Their moral corruption only fuels me to continue my work.

Last month, I invited the local Indigenous community to my clinic for a smoking ceremony to bless the Pfizer vaccines that had arrived. And just last week I cracked 10,000 vaccinations at my clinic alone.

That was why I was so upset at seeing the anti-lockdown protesters on the television when I was at Macquarie Hospital. They are threatening vulnerable people with their selfish behaviour with no concern for the community.

We have these people in Lebanon, too. They put ideology and self-interest ahead of the greater good.

They would rather have me sentenced and jailed than contemplate what can be achieved when we are brave enough to put our differences aside.

Jamal Rifi is a general practitioner and a board member of Project Rozana.