Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Family, Friends Pull out All Stops to Free Dr. Riad Abdelkarim from Israeli Prison

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Family, Friends Pull out All Stops to Free Dr. Riad Abdelkarim from Israeli Prison

Article excerpt

Pat McDonnell Twair is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles.

Jesse Jackson volunteered to travel to Israel to negotiate the release of California physician Riad Abdelkarim--but, after two weeks of detention on unspecified charges, Israel freed him on May 19.

Candlelight vigils, demonstrations in front of the offices of Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA) and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and round-the-clock media interviews were just some of the efforts made by Dr. Abdelkarim's supporters, family members and colleagues after his May 5 arrest at Tel Aviv's Ben-Gurion Airport.

The tall, articulate doctor went to the West Bank April 27 at the invitation of the International Medical Corps to evaluate the medical needs of the Palestinian population after four weeks of invasion and siege by the Israeli army. Although the Santa Monica-born physician has made similar missions to the region, this time, after seeing the carnage and destruction at Jenin, he sent an achingly descriptive e-mail to the U.S. (see box).

Washington Report readers know Dr. Riad Abdelkarim as the magazine's "Islam in America" columnist who has honestly and patriotically tackled such subjects as: "Why Do They Hate Us? The Question That Won't Go Away," and Islamaphobia in America. The gentle and soft-spoken doctor, who also has written first-hand accounts of Israel's devastating occupation, was planning to write a searing report on Jenin for this issue. When Israeli authorities detained him, they immediately confiscated his digital camera and his video recorder.

In addition to his work as a physician and a writer, Dr. Abdelkarim is president of KinderUSA, an organization he co-founded in March to provide relief to Palestinian families. Following the Dec. 4 closing of the Holy Land Foundation by U.S. authorities--shortly after a visit to Washington, DC by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon--American humanitarian aid to the Palestinians was virtually cut off. KinderUSA was established to fill the need for an agency to assist the sick and needy and to provide special programs for children.

On Saturday, May 4, Abdelkarim had met with Dalell Mohmed, executive director of KinderUSA, to prioritize emergency assistance for West Bank Palestinians. They spent time with Beit Jala's hospital director to outline plans for psycho-social trauma centers for the children of Nablus, Bethlehem and Jenin.

Hours later, as he prepared to fly home to California, Dr. Abdelkarim was arrested at the airport. Also taken into custody was Dr. Rushdie Abdel Cader of San Luis Obispo, who was freed after 16 hours in detention, where he witnessed Israeli police pushing and threatening Abdelkarim.

The following morning, Mohmed was arrested at her East Jerusalem hotel.

"It was surreal," the charity worker recalled in Los Angeles May 15, barely 48 hours after her release by the Israelis.

"I was drinking mint tea at 8:30 a.m.," she said, "and admiring the view of the Dome of the Rock from the Seven Arches Hotel....I heard a commotion, but didn't turn to see what it was about. Then two soldiers with guns and three Shabak men stood over me and demanded to see my passport.

"They ordered me to come with them. I refused and asked to see their identification."

Mohmed's demands to call the U.S. consulate were refused. Instead, the men marched her to her room and ordered her to pack all her belongings. As she was escorted out of the hotel, a receptionist handed her a slip of paper with the phone number of the U.S. consulate.

Incredibly, the Shabak did not confiscate her cell phone. Although the U.S. consulate did not answer her call that Sunday morning, attorney Allegra Pacheco in Bethlehem did.

Warning her not to name anyone, lest they be arrested as well, the American-Israeli lawyer asked Mohmed to identify the areas through which the car was driving. Then, referring to International Solidarity Movement volunteers who had flown to Israel to act as protective "shields" for Palestinians, Pacheco commented, "They've detained so many Americans at this point, they don't know what to do with them. …

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