Palestinian cardiologist treating patients in the U.S. may not be allowed to come home
Dr. Tareq Ramahi, a 45-year-old cardiologist, is one of the great hopes of Al Quds University in Abu Dis. University management is hoping that Ramahi will expand the medical faculty, which currently comprises only three full time professors. During 2004-2006, Ramahi was a visiting professor at Al Quds. Now he has agreed to become a full staff member, and has begun developing a program of study in cardiology.
He will be able to accomplish this if the Israeli Interior Ministry allows him to reenter the country in three weeks' time from a trip to the United States, where he is presently attending a conference and treating patients.
From Yale to Abu Dis
Ramahi said, on September 27, that the Interior Ministry official at Ben-Gurion International Airport had told him: "You have been coming here too often and it is not for certain that we will give you permission next time." He recommended that Ramahi apply for a work permit. But experience teaches us it is not simple for a Palestinian, even a doctor and professor, to receive a work permit in Israel, even if the work takes place in the occupied territories.
Ramahi completed his medical studies at Yale University and his residency at Yale's medical center. He later taught at Yale for seven years, and at other universities, all the while caring for patients. For four years, he headed the cardiac transplant ward at Yale and then headed similar departments at other American hospitals.
His curriculum vitae reveals his work as a senior practitioner at other academic institutes and medical centers, as well as his contributions to scientific publications. What brings a person like this to a distant university beyond the wall of Abu Dis? What motivates him to waste hours traveling and at roadblocks in order to teach students in Hebron, because the Al Quds-affiliated hospitals in Jerusalem are closed to them?
He was born in Jerusalem's Augusta Victoria hospital in 1961. Three years later, his parents went to work in Jordan and Saudi Arabia and later, when he was still a boy, immigrated to the U.S. In 1994, his parents returned to the West Bank, because they wanted to care for his maternal grandmother who was living in el-Bireh.
His father died in 1996. His mother received Palestinian residency from the Israeli authorities; her ID card is that of a resident of the territories. Since they settled in the West Bank, he has visited her several times a year for two or three weeks. What is more natural than a son visiting his parents, he says. And what is more natural than giving a helping hand to improve medical services in the place where you were born? The fact that he is an American citizen and works in the U.S. cannot erase his caring for, and ties to, the Palestinian people.
In addition to teaching, he cares for patients in Augusta Victoria's Ramallah clinic (70 percent of whom are refugees), because they cannot come to East Jerusalem.
At first he got a work permit for three months as part of the United Nations Development Program, which was aimed precisely at people like him - Palestinians living abroad who have excelled in development fields and have been hired to work and help establish institutions in the Palestinian Authority. They receive entry visas through the Israeli Foreign Ministry for several months at a time. In certain cases, the visas have been extended and these individuals have continued to work in the same, or other, Palestinian institutions and then obtained work permits through these bodies.
But Palestinian universities and institutions have found that in the past six years, it has been difficult to obtain work permits through the Civil Administration. In other words, since the outbreak of the intifada, the granting of work permits to Palestinians, another Israeli prerogative, has been frozen nearly altogether.
Civil Administration changes its tune
The solution is, therefore, coming and going with a tourist visa. This suited Dr. Ramahi: His work in the U.S. made it necessary for him to attend a conference or take care of patients abroad every month and a half or two, for several weeks at a time. In effect, his work abroad subsidizes his work in the territories.
It seemed as if Israel was prepared to accept this arrangement, more or less, until recently. At the start of this year, and more so since April, Israeli authorities have been preventing people like Ramahi from returning. Lecturers at universities, music teachers, doctors, advisers to government offices in the PA are all vital for a society that wishes to develop but their return is being prevented. For Ramahi, and especially for the university, his students and patients, there is reason to fear that he will join the list of those refused entry.
An Interior Ministry spokesman said, "The Interior Ministry does not prevent people from entering but asks foreign nationals coming to Israel to have a suitable visa. If they wish to work within Israeli borders, they need a work permit, and if they wish to visit or work within the borders of the PA, they must arrange a suitable permit with the military authorities."
The Civil Administration was asked whether the arrangement of work permits for Palestinians had been renewed after a prolonged freeze, and what the possibilities were for Ramahi to get a work permit, but no response was forthcoming.
Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al Quds University, informed Ramahi that the Israeli authorities did not recognize the university, and therefore, according to past experience, it could not request a work permit on his behalf.