I easily identified the American doctor of Palestinian origin, born in Ramallah in the center of the occupied West Bank, Dr. Shehadeh Shawki Harb, at the 27th International Medical Convention of NAAMA held on June 29 – July 4, 2013 at Hilton Hotel in Vienna. It was as if I had met him yesterday! Actually I met Dr. Harb about 25 years ago occupied Ramallah, where he was the head of the department for heart, chest and vascular medicine at the city hospital.
Currently, occupied Ramallah is shared by the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, the Al-Moqata’a and the Israeli military “civil” Administration in Betin, called “Bet Ill” by the occupation. Betin is one of the Palestinian villages of the Ramallah and Al Bireh district which has been occupied since 1967 and until today, 2013.
25 years ago I reported several times about the Ramallah hospital under Israeli occupation, the miserable and harsh situation in which Dr. Harb and his colleagues were obliged to treat and save the life of Palestinians who were shot, tortured or massacred by the zionist colonial occupation.
At the end of 1987, I reported about the first open-heart surgery performed by Dr. Harb at the governmental hospital of Ramallah. The operation was successful. Only two nurses and a resident doctor helped Dr. Harb with his work at the department of heart, chest and vascular diseases at the hospital. There was no medical staff at the surgical department which Dr. Harb headed, he was forced by the prevailing conditions to work alone.
When the terrorist Baruch Goldstein, an American-born jewish physician perpetrated the 1994 massacre at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron killing 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers and wounding hundreds while they were kneeling, prostrated on the ground, Dr. Shawqi Harb was one of the doctors who attended to the wounded. He worked over 24 hours at the operations room of the Ramallah hospital. He conducted difficult and complicated operations, and all of them were successful. I published several interviews about the Palestinians operated by Dr. Harb at the Al-Quds newspaper and still have copies of those reports.
Dr. “Shawki” Harb studied at the American Friends School and pursued his medical studies at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, where he graduated Magna cum Laude in 1965 and met with a beautiful German woman who would become his wife.
Dr. Harb completed his training in general surgery at the University of Florida in 1972, and continued as a fellow in thoracic and cardiovascular surgery department at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. In 1975 Dr. Harb returned home to Ramallah where he worked at the governmental hospital and experienced the difficulties and horrors of working under the Israeli occupation.
At the Hilton Hotel in Vienna Dr. Harb told me a few of the horrors which he experienced under the Israeli occupation during the first and second Intifada.
According to Dr. Harb, the IDF soldier used him several times as a human shield while raiding the Ramallah hospital. The last time the IDF used him as a human shield was on March 31 2002, when the occupation raided the hospital to enter patient’s rooms.
Several soldiers put their rifles in his back and forced him to enter one room after another. The soldiers pushed him violently in his column. They beat the patients in their beds in front of his eyes. One of the patients, Rami Mohie Al-din was beaten severely, leading to change all the treatment which was planned for him. In the words of the doctor, the patients screamed loud while the occupation soldiers were beating them and saying “let them die”.
“The soldiers also raided the recovery and operation rooms and forced me to open the entrance of the operations room for them, without taking into account the special status of this room”, said doctor Harb. “When they entered the outer door of the room, they asked me to open the inner door where there was a red line that prevents everyone from passing whthout wearing special disinfected clothes, covered from head to the feet.
They spent hours searching and destroying the medical equipment in the hospital, threatening me, beating up people, yelling and investigating the patients, hitting them and breaking down some doors. They tied the hands of several patients and threw them to the ground with cuffed hands tied behind”. After hours of spreading horror in the hospital they left like thieves, said Dr. Harb
Corruption and Theft Forced Dr. Harb To Flee Ramallah to USA
The experience of Dr. Harb under the zionist occupation was not the only cruel one, but he also suffered of the corruption under the cover of the PA, and he choose to emigrate to the USA, were he had studied, instead to polluting his hands in the prevalent corruption in order to continue his humanitarian medical work.
He said: “the Palestinian Authority appointed me as the director of the Ramallah Hospital, I worked hard for the success of my work in the hospital. The work was very difficult in the hospital, which had been turned into a centre for receiving patients from all West Bank cities. The patients would arrive to us late in the course of their diseases, or after receiving treatment in other hospitals”.
He added that the biggest problem and the most difficult challenge which faced him at the hospital were not only the stress of the work and the big responsibility of being a director, but the discovery of corruption at the hospital. “There were continued thefts of medical treatment consumables, equipment and other supplies at the hospital. I would order certain supplies for the hospital but everything disappeared quickly, before we could use these supplies or even arriving at the hospital”.
He added: “I informed “Abu Ammar” (Arafat) about the thefts and corruption at the hospital and he responded positively to me. He said that if I knew who the thieves were, he’d immediately dismiss them. He asked me to help him, but the thieves never left evidence that could help to identify them, so I preferred to leave my post instead of being involved in covering corruption and theft. I returned to Detroit, Michigan”.
Dr. Harb is a fellow of the American College of Surgeons, the International College of Surgeons and of the American College of Cardiology. He is a practicing surgeon in Detroit, Michigan. He has four sons: Dr. Tariq, an invasive cardiologist, Omar, a Genetic Engineer, Firas, and Lara, a specialist in comparative literature. Dr. Harb soon will publish a book about his experience as a doctor under the Israeli occupation.