- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2008

AMMAN, Jordan - A hole in the heart of Diyar Raouf’s 6-year-old son threatens his life.

But in Mrs. Raouf’s heart lies a hatred of Israel that is so great that at the last minute, the Iraqi woman declined to let Israeli surgeons touch her son.

“These feelings were born with us. They are inbred,” said Mrs. Raouf, who jumped at an offer from Algeria to perform the same operation.

The Israeli charity Save A Child’s Heart arranged for them to travel to Amman, where her son Ahmad was undergoing tests before the surgery in Israel to correct a pulmonary valve stenosis - a disease that restricts the flow of blood to the lungs.

Instead of departing for Tel Aviv as planned, the two arrived Friday in Algiers, after an Iraqi doctor in Amman intervened and the Algerian government pledged the cost of transport, housing and a medical team to perform surgeries on 14 children so they would not have to go to Israel.

“We hear about this, the way they kill our children in Palestine. All of this we see,” Mrs. Raouf said. “We are not afraid of going to any other country.”

Hours earlier, she and two other Iraqi mothers who made up the first group to go to Algeria for the surgeries were visited by George Bakoos, an envoy sent by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to investigate what has become a burgeoning controversy in Iraqi and Arab media.

An Iraqi television station called it a matter of “sending Iraqi children with their guardians for treatment in the enemy country No. 1 for Iraq and Arabic nations.”

The Jerusalem Post, quoting Al Jazeera, reported that the Iraqi Parliament’s Health and Environment Committee is calling for an investigation. The Health Ministry claims it didn’t know of the work happening inside the country.

Shatha Fakhri faced a similar situation with her daughter Sara and took the child to the National Iraqi Assistance Center located in the Green Zone.

Mrs. Fakhri was approached by the group Brothers Together, or Shevat Achim in its Hebrew moniker. The group, which was founded in 1994 with the purpose of helping non-Israeli children receive lifesaving medical care in Israel, offered their assistance.

In Baghdad, Mrs. Fakhri was told 2 1/2-year-old Sara may be taken to either Israel or somewhere in Europe for dual surgeries to fix the corrected transposition with valve malfunction in her heart.

“It’s the only way I see it at the time. I can’t refuse it,” she said. “Maybe it’s the only chance to save my child. If I refuse it, maybe I don’t have a second chance. So I say yes at this time.”

According to a letter to Jordanian immigration officers and obtained by The Washington Times, Mrs. Fakhri on March 3 flew to Amman. Doctors at the Jordan Red Crescent office told her the next day that the operation would take place in a Tel Aviv hospital.

Over the next two months, Sara would need regular medical attention. An Iraqi doctor suggested that she see Dr. Omar al Kubaisy, an Iraqi cardiologist at the private al Israa Hospital, who had assembled other Iraqi doctors in a two-room office in a special practice for Iraqi refugees in Amman.

Dr. Kubaisy was senior cardiac consultant and former director of the Ibn al Bitar Hospital for Cardiac Surgery in Baghdad before it was burned and looted in 2003. When he was told of the Israel plan, he and other Iraqis living in Amman looked for options. Algeria responded right away.

“We moved them immediately,” said one of the Iraqis, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in the quiet three-room apartment where the mothers lived after leaving an apartment provided by Brothers Together.

They’re now working on more long-term arrangements for children bound for Israel.

The intervention was unsettling to Jonathan Miles, a former journalist and international coordinator for Brothers Together.

“I’m a little bit troubled about what happened,” Mr. Miles said. “We’re going to be watching closely to see these kids aren’t injured. It’s something for advanced medical centers to take on.”

Mr. Miles said that since 2003 his group has transported 80 or more children to Israeli hospitals.

“Our work is motivated by faith and obedience to Jesus,” he said, invoking the New Testament parable of the Good Samaritan. “Our position is the love of God is freely offered unconditionally to all people and these outstanding world-class medical facilities in Israel should be open to all the people in the region. A Muslim child dying from a heart condition should have same rights to medical care as Jewish or Christian children.”

Mr. Miles said the group doesn’t work with the Iraqi or U.S. governments and interacted with the Ministry of Health only “a couple times in the early years right after the war.”

“We’ve been very open about what we’ve been doing. There wasn’t much response or cooperation from them,” he said.

Brothers Together is funded by donors, though “much of the financial burden” is carried by the Israeli charity Save A Child’s Heart as well as what’s solicited from its Web site. He said most of the contributions come from Christians.

Mr. Miles said Brothers Together arranges the visa to Amman where Iraqi doctors come to conduct tests. The organization provides accommodations, either furnished apartments or at a local church.

The group is not registered with the Iraqi government to work as a nongovernmental organization in Iraq, nor the World Health Organization, Mr. Miles said. It is registered in Israel, the United States and Britain as a charity organization. Children in need of heart surgeries are referred to them, including by the NIAC.

However, the NIAC in a statement yesterday disassociated itself from the group.

“As of April 1, 2008; the NIAC no longer sends children to Israel for treatment, nor do they associate with organizations whom send children there,” a spokeswoman said.

The mothers interviewed said the location of the surgery didn’t matter as much as their children’s lives.

“I don’t blame or reproach the mothers that go [to Israel],” Mrs. Raouf said, “because if there were any other route any other mothers, they would go there.”

But they also say resentment toward Israel won’t be removed by free surgery, and they expressed relief that they would not have to take their children there.

“I still can’t believe that this nightmare of Israel has been removed from my heart and my shoulders,” Mrs. Fakhri said.

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