Israel Reverses Decision Denying Entry to British-Palestinian Humanitarian Doctor

Following an inquiry by Haaretz, ministry allows ophthalmologist Ali Dabbagh to enter the country.

The Interior Ministry on Wednesday reversed a previous decision to deny entry into the country to a British-Palestinian ophthalmologist, following an inquiry by Haaretz.

Ali Dabbagh, a 57-year-old Palestinian ophthalmologist who holds British citizenship, was denied entry into the country on Monday by the Interior Ministry. Dabbagh, who holds a senior position in a hospital in Kuwait, arrived at the Allenby Bridge border crossing accompanied by his wife Sana.

Emil Salman

Dabbagh was invited to run a training course at Jerusalem’s Augusta Victoria Hospital on treatment of eye diseases and the prevention of blindness in diabetics.

This was to be the third and last part of a course on "Diabetics and Eye Complications". The first two parts took place in November and December of 2011, when Dabbagh was allowed to enter the country with no problems, as he had in the past 13 years, often two or more times a year.

At the immigration desk, even though he showed the formal invitation, his wife received a two week visa but he was sent for questioning by the Shin Bet.

After three and a half hours, half of which spent waiting, and the other answering conventional questioning (purpose of visit, any affiliation, his professional visit to Gaza in 2009 etc.), Dabbagh was told that he was "cleared" by the security and sent back to immigration. There he was informed by the immigration clerk that he may not enter because he had been on "a" flotilla.

Dabbagh told the officer that the information was incorrect. Another two border officers appeared and told him that he was denied entry. Dabbagh then demanded to speak with an Interior Ministry supervisor. When he did, however, the supervisor did not tell him the reason for which he was being denied entry.

Dabbagh was allowed to speak to his wife, and they decided together that she would continue on to Jerusalem, without him. Since his passport was not stamped "Denied Entry," he inquired whether he could enter through the northern border crossing Sheikh Hussein, near Beit Shean. He was told he could try. On Tuesday he tried his luck there, but was also denied entry.

On Wednesday, in response to an inquiry by Haaretz regarding the reason that he was refused entry, the Interior Ministry said that he “was refused entry at the recommendation of defense elements.” Several hours later, the Shin Bet spokesperson told Haaretz that “the Shin Bet did not recommend refusing entry to the person in question.”

Following an additional inquiry, the Interior Ministry said that “the Population Administration was in possession of information which justified refusal of entry to the person in question. However, in light of the circumstances under which he is coming to Israel, we are prepared to reexamine his request and approve his entry under certain conditions.”

A source at the Interior Ministry told Haaretz on Thursday that “there is no reason to prevent his entry” and that Dabbagh could “absolutely” return to the border crossing and enter Israel. And indeed, on Thursday, Dabbagh returned from Amman to the Allenby Bridge and was allowed entry. It is not clear yet whether he will be able to run the training course that was due to start last Tuesday.

Dabbagh, who is also a homeopath and an acupuncturist through acupuncture, founded Oyooni, a “mobile eye clinic” for treating Palestinian diabetics in the West Bank and Gaza. He also treated patients in several refugee camps in the West Bank as a UNRWA consultant for three years.

According to Oyooni’s website, none of the 66 ophthalmologists and 12 eye specialists working in the West Bank specializes in treating diabetics. Some 14 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank are estimated to suffer from diabetics. According to Dabbagh, one of the reasons for the malady’s prevalence is the constant stress endured by Palestinians living under Israeli occupation.
The mobile clinic aims at reaching patients who, due to limits on freedom of movement in the West Bank, find it difficult to receive treatment. His invitation to Augusta Victoria is part of an effort by the hospital to increase awareness and improve treatment and prevent diabetes and its complications.