Jerusalem Diary: A Mission to Heal
A Muslim surgeon chronicles his two-week trip to the holy land, where he will work with kids and get to the heart of religion.
BY: Dr. S. Adil Husain
Dr. S. Adil Husain, a Muslim surgeon based in Gainsville, Florida, will chronicle his journey to Jerusalem and the West Bank for Beliefnet readers. He is on a two-week volunteer program with the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund, a nonprofit American organization dedicated to the medical and humanitarian needs of Palestinian children and others in the Middle East. From January 7 through 19, Dr. Husain will be performing heart surgeries on Palestinian children and trying to get to the heart what makes the holy land so special to the three Abrahamic faiths. He'll be sharing his experiences in this blog.
Saturday, Jan. 20, 2007
Hitting the Ceiling
What I feared most occurred at the hospital as we neared the end of our surgical experience: With the completion of our final few cases, the intensive care units (ICU) at the hospital reached its capacity and we were unfortunately unable to do surgery on the last two children. Medically speaking, this was the hardest thing I had to face in my two weeks here.
Our cases thus far all went well, so we decided to perform surgery on two children with a complicated congenital defect in which there are multiple abnormalities in the heart due to a hole between the two major chambers. This is the most complex operation ever done in Palestine, and more complex cases are sent to better-equipped Israeli hospitals.
I was concerned, but felt confident that we could safely perform this surgery on the two children. The cases went well, but as expected these children could not come out of the ICU setting within a day or so. With the pediatric ICU beds all full, this made it difficult to perform more surgeries. We actually put two patients in the adult ICU so that we could keep operating. This created nursing staff challenges as well.
Overall, we completed 14 cases. This was a bit less than I had hoped for, but considering the challenges at hand, I feel satisfied with what we accomplished. That being said, there were two children left in the hospital we were unable to treat and this weighs heavily on my heart. There was no hiding the families’ disappointment, and their fear of when and how they would return for care. I also feel very uneasy about leaving critical patients who we have operated upon in the hospital as I return to the United States. But Vivian, the wonderful surgical resident, is there to handle everything after I go.
I knew this would be the case prior to starting the mission, yet it doesn't make the prospect and my concerns any less. I will really miss all of the staff, residents and nurses. I made many friends quickly and will think of them often as I return to practice at the University of Florida.
To Bethlehem, Hebron
During my final two days, I visited two additional places that I was interested in seeing. I went to Bethlehem on Thursday and was pleased to get there prior to nightfall, as travel through checkpoints always becomes more difficult after the sun sets. Bethlehem is a very charming city perched on a hill at the edge of the Judaean desert. In biblical tradition, it is the childhood home of David and also the birthplace of Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him).
Thousands of Palestinian refugees occupy Bethlehem as they traveled here after the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. I visited the Church of the Nativity and witnessed the Grotto of the Nativity, which is the church's focal point. The entrance to the church also has historical significance--it is only approximately three feet tall. The door was reduced to present size in the Ottoman period to prevent carts being driven by looters to enter.
Portions of the original floor with its beautiful mosaic design--that survived from the fourth century Basilica--remain in the church. The manger square outside the church was filled with children and people and was surrounded by vendors selling things like corn and nuts.
I also visited Heborn with Vivian. Going to her hometown was important for me as this was a special request from her. Traveling to Hebron was simple, and we cruised through the two checkpoints with minimal difficulty. We visited a few glass blowing factories, which are some of the city's major attractions.
I was most interested to visit the Abraham Mosque, which we were able to do in time to for Asr, the late afternoon prayer. What’s interesting about the building is that it is divided in half for Muslims and those of Jewish faith. So in one building, people of both faiths worship on either side of a wall. The mosque is also referred to as the Tomb of the Patriarchs, or Haram al-Khalil in Arabic.
The Abraham Mosque is still a significant historical dividing issue between faiths, being the site where 29 Muslim worshippers were killed in 1994. This tragedy still creates much emotion when speaking with Palestinian natives of Hebron. Again, it was very odd for me be questioned by governmental security guards as I tried to enter the mosque. Having to go through questioning and metal detectors to visit places of worship has given me a very uncomfortable feeling throughout my trip.
Interestingly, all monotheistic faiths believe that Abraham, his wives Sarah and Hagar as well as their sons Ishmael and Isaac, are buried in Hebron.
The return to Jerusalem was quite interesting. Due to the Islamic New Year being the next day, there was much activity around the old city. As our travel back became more challenging, it became impossible to get through the checkpoints. We diverted our path to Bethlehem. Although it was a much longer, tenser route, we were able to return safely without incident.
A Never-Ending Cycle
I am very thankful to have accomplished many of my goals on this trip. I thank the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund to allow me to come and perform surgery in Palestine. My thoughts regarding the political, cultural, and religious issues of this region are evolving now that I am back in the U.S. and am digesting and analyzing my experiences.
This area of the world is truly amazing for an ignorant individual who comes as a tourist. The history, religious structures, heterogeneity of faiths, as well as the overall welcoming nature of the people, make Jerusalem an amazing place. The close proximity of the some of the most important places in the Islam, Judaism, and Christianity cannot be appreciated until you have walked through the Old City.
Although I have tried to be very non-judgmental throughout my time here, I cannot deny that this is a land of occupation for the Palestinian people. They are truly treated as people who have a right to live, eat, and drink--but little else. Traveling, working for a decent salary, access to health care, and other general rights that most take for granted are not offered to the Palestinians.
This is not to say that I understand the historical reasons for the present state of affairs or that I am an expert on these issues. But my eyes witnessed these facts. I think it is safe to say that very few people in the world have any idea of the true nature of life in Jerusalem and the surrounding areas.
The lack of respect for others’ religious beliefs and the inability to live in peace with one another is a very disturbing issue to have witnessed. I struggle with all faiths and people here in regards to the very segregated manner in which they view what is right and wrong. The final product of such unilateral beliefs is an environment that may never foster a respectful coexistence.
Basic principles of good will are lost between the faiths and cultures due to years of historical division. These philosophies are passed on to children at a young age and thus the cycle will be difficult to break. I also witnessed kind hearted as well as inappropriate individuals from all religions during my stay. Although religion is the core and central source of life for so many, it troubles me to see it is also used to create hatred and immoral behavior.
Although these feelings may be naive and the view of an individual who has not lived through the hardships of people here, they are what I have felt. Until people begin to respect life, individual choice, and private manner in which one is religious--and realizes that no religion supports anything but these basic entities--we will continue to see suffering for all. We have seen the outbreak of violence because of this situation in the past, and unfortunately we will likely see it again.
As a Muslim, I truly enjoyed my time at the Islamic sites. It brought me much personal satisfaction to be lucky enough to have prayed at these locations and to learn first hand the history behind them. I feel as if my faith was strengthened by these experiences, and I know that in my own private manner, they will assist me in my significant daily struggle to be a better person. My time spent at the major Christian and Jewish sites was also very rewarding and provided me with many of the viewpoints I have highlighted above.
These experiences have educated me and given me more understanding of all faiths and beliefs. I am blessed to have made this trip and hope to return for a similar mission in the future.
Friday, Jan 19
As I Ready to Leave
I am getting ready to leave Jerusalem now and head back home to Florida. I'm flying out today and am filled with mixed emotions--I look forward to getting back to Florida, my work, and my friends and family, but I will miss the new friends I made here. The past few days have been a whirlwind, with the last few surgeries and visits to Hebron and Bethlehem. I have so much to tell about what has happened, and so much to write about my feelings and impressions after being here for two weeks.
If anything, this experience has opened my eyes to a whole other kind of life. I will be posting a longer piece about my last days here and my final thoughts in the next two days. There's just not enough time right now to write down all that I want to say. Please stay tuned ...