Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 26 November 2020

'I need to heal the wounds': surgeon says it was his destiny to help people scarred by conflict

Dr Tariq Shadid answered a plea for help in Palestine but insists others are the true heroes

Dr Tariq Shadid has vivid memories of his time helping victims of conflict in Palestine. Leslie Pableo for The National
Dr Tariq Shadid has vivid memories of his time helping victims of conflict in Palestine. Leslie Pableo for The National

Palestine, 2015. It is late afternoon in the emergency room at Ramallah Hospital. Relatives and friends crowd patients' beds. Sirens can be heard in the distance. Faint at first, then louder and louder as the ambulance reaches the back entrance. Paramedics leave nearly as soon as they arrive. They need to return to the streets and rescue more of the injured.

The patients include an 11-year-old boy. He has been hit with a live bullet through the thigh.

“When I first saw him he was in a state of shock…wide-eyed, mouth open, no talking.”

Dr Tariq Shadid, 51, a general surgeon in the UAE, remembers his time in that hospital so vividly. It was a 10-day volunteering stint that brought him there.

During the 2015-2016 wave of violence that erupted during the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Palestine’s Ministry of Health issued a call for help. Dr Shadid was one of those who responded to the call.

“I didn’t treat anyone over the age of 19.

“Most were young teens, the youngest was that boy, just 11-years-old…shot!”

When I speak to Dr Shadid, a proud Palestinian, he makes one thing clear.

“I am not a warzone doctor, nor a hero.

“The doctors I stood alongside in that hospital were the real heroes.”

“They were working in very difficult conditions, standing on their feet for sometimes 20 hours a day, treating children marred by conflict.”

Growing up in Holland, Dr Shadid always felt disconnected from his peers. Despite being born and raised there, he was different.

“The kids in my class had never met someone with migrant parents…I was the outsider...just to say I was Palestinian was a big problem.”

Every summer would be spent in the same way. Travelling back home visiting friends and family that couldn’t escape the Palestinian territories.

Begging to hear his stories of Holland, conjuring up images of tulip fields and windmills, his cousins often exclaimed wishes of trading lives with the young teen. Their lives were so different. He struck lucky. They did not. It was like a rags to riches Hollywood blockbuster, in their minds at least.

But for Dr Shadid, he wished for the opposite.

“Going home to Palestine was like my comfort blanket. I felt guilty to complain, but Palestine was my escape. They couldn’t understand that.”

Returning to Holland, back to being the outsider, was always bitter. But that isolation, in a way, mapped out his life. It was what brought him to that hospital in Ramallah, decades later in 2015.

“The social exclusion made me protective over my culture, my people. I connected to my background in a deeper way.”

The doctors I stood alongside in that hospital were the real heroes

Dr Tariq Shadid

And in 1982, at just 14, a news bulletin shocked him to his core.

“3,000 Palestinian refugees were massacred at a refugee camp.”

But it was the cold reaction from classmates, telling him the victims “deserved it”, that tipped him over the edge.

“My anger boiled over…it was then I realised we were a hunted people.

“If we are hunted I need to be a surgeon, I need to help heal the wounds. That’s when I felt my destiny was chosen.”

In the following years, at 17, Dr Shadid decided to pursue a career in medicine. The goal was to become a trauma surgeon and a surgeon he became. Fighting off competition from more than 750 medical graduates for a surgical residency in Holland, Dr Shadid was one of 40 chosen for a placement.

As the years went by, he found that music brought people together. And with that, his social circle grew. His skin colour no longer mattered.

Nicknamed doctor Jazz by friends at university, he used his musical platform to raise awareness about Palestine.

“I began creating this western style music, with lyrics in English that narrated the story of Palestine.

“My musical repertoire stood out and it got me noticed.”

To date, Dr Shadid has written more than 110 songs and has a healthy online following.

And he says it was his music that brought him to volunteering.

An American-based charity, the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund, reached out to “Doc Jazz” to perform at one of their gala shows in Los Angeles. A few years later, thanks to the efforts of PCRF, he was in the middle of that hospital ward in Palestine.

“I remember moving from bed to bed, speaking to patients, my voice calm and self-assured to keep them at ease.

“Some were bloodied, some were scarred…some had families standing close by crying.”

“I had a flashback to being 17 again, remembering that news about the massacred refugees, making a vow to help others."

And that’s when he knew he was where he was meant to be.

Updated: November 14, 2019 09:22 PM

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