Australia/Israel Review

Media Microscope: The Prison Doctor?

Sep 20, 2021 | Allon Lee

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

If more proof were needed that the time has long since passed for Australia to ban Hezbollah in its entirety, it came with the news that a Hezbollah-backed military court in Lebanon had sentenced prominent Sydney GP Dr Jamal Rifi to ten years’ hard labour, in absentia, for the “crime” of visiting Israel while working with the Australian charity Project Rozana.

Speaking to ABC Radio “PM” (Aug. 24), Dr Rifi, who has lived in Australia for nearly 40 years, said the sentencing “without any doubt, without any doubt” was linked to his work for Project Rozana. The charity was set up by Australian Jewish businessman Ron Finkel and provides medical training to Palestinian doctors and transports sick Palestinians to Israeli hospitals for treatment.

Dr Rifi explained his brother had phoned him from Lebanon to tell him he had been found guilty of being a “collaborator and a traitor with the enemy [Israel].” 

Dr Rifi said his prosecution was intended to smear his brother, who is “one of the loudest voices [in Lebanon] against Hezbollah [which] does everything that their master Iran” tells them to do. He said no one likes to be called a traitor and it is a distraction from his work giving COVID-19 vaccines to thousands of people in Sydney. 

In the Australian (Aug. 28), Dr Rifi outlined further Project Rozana’s activities for Palestinians, writing how in 2020, “as Covid-19 swept through the Middle East” and at the behest of the “Palestinian Authority …our charity raised $500,000 to buy 35 ventilators that were sent over to the region.” 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, Dr Rifi wrote, is “an Australian success story” that “I represent as a proud Australian-Lebanese Muslim with an abiding love for the Palestinian cause” and has been supported by Izzat Abdulhadi, the Palestinian Authority representative to Australia, since it was established in 2013. 

Dr Rifi expressed his amazement that this has happened “while Lebanon…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.”

An SBS online report (Aug. 27) said Dr Rifi was considering raising his case with the UN Commission on Human Rights. The report quoted Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne praising Rifi’s contributions to Australia and stating that she would be “seeking urgent clarification of reports he has been convicted by a Lebanese military tribunal.”

In the Daily Telegraph (Aug. 29), columnist Piers Akerman noted “that most victims of Islamist hate have been Muslims.”

He said, “Hezbollah and Hamas, which run their terrorist organisations in Gaza and the West Bank, are violently opposed to such charitable work because it enables ordinary Palestinians to see that Israelis are not the demons that the terrorists claim they are. A suicide bomber may have second thoughts about murdering a person who saved the life of a family member. Movements like BDS, supported by fanatics on some Australian campuses, are opposed to any normalisation of relations between Israelis and Palestinians.”

News of Dr Rifi’s predicament was picked up by veteran Israeli Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh. Writing for the Gatestone Institute (Aug. 30), Abu Toameh contrasted Hezbollah’s message of hate with Israeli Member of the Knesset Moshe Arbel’s demand that Israel provide medical assistance to Lebanon on the basis that “Israeli society cannot remain silent and stand idly by when a humanitarian catastrophe is occurring just a few minutes from the northern border.”

Abu Toameh added, that “If an Arab doctor who provided medical services to Arabs is sentenced to 10 years in prison, one can only imagine what would have happened to the doctor had he been found guilty of providing services to Israeli Jews.”

Abu Toameh’s article also quoted support for Dr Rifi from Australian Arab groups, including the Australian-Lebanese Christian Congregation’s Wali Wahba, who said the Lebanese judiciary “has become a vehicle for political targets,” and Abdel Qader Qaranouh, head of the Palestinian Fatah faction in Australia, who said, “it is certainly an unjust and illogical ruling.” 


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