A prominent physician in Australia’s Lebanese Muslim community says he has been sentenced to 10 years prison in absentia in Lebanon. Dr. Jamal Rifi has been working with members of Sydney’s Jewish community as part of a program to organize treatment for Palestinians in Israeli hospitals.
Since 2017, Dr. Jamal Rifi has worked with Jewish groups in Australia on Project Rozana. It is a humanitarian organization that helps train Palestinian medical workers and assists in transferring Palestinian patients, including sick children, from Gaza and Palestinian Territories for treatment in Israeli hospitals.
Dr. Rifi, who moved to Australia almost 40-years ago to study medicine, has also worked to help the fragile Palestinian health system during the COVID-19 pandemic by providing ventilators. In 2017, he was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia, a prestigious civic honor. His brother in Lebanon, Ashraf Rifi, informed him that he has been punished for his charity work in absentia because of his association with Jewish groups.
Dr. Rifi told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. the news was deeply unsettling.
“The Lebanese military tribunal sentenced me to ten years’ imprisonment for being a collaborator and a traitor with the enemy. Nobody wants to be labelled as a traitor and I am really upset, and it is a distraction from the work that I am doing right now, and this is a reflection of the Lebanese corrupt system,” Rifi said.
The sentence means Dr. Rifi cannot return to visit family in Lebanon. He believes the verdict against him could also be part of sinister domestic politics in Lebanon.
His brother happens to be the former director-general of the Lebanese Internal Security Forces, and a fierce critic of Hezbollah, according to media reports. Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Shia Islamist political, military and social organization, has been accused of having influence in Lebanon’s politics. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, has denied in the past that the group has such influence. The group is a sworn enemy of Israel.
About 230,000 Australians have Lebanese ancestry, according to official figures. Most are Christians, and around 40% are Muslims.