An Israeli opthamologist NGO has been praised for providing the “most successful” medical camp the Maldives has ever seen following its conclusion last week, despite protests including the burning of Israeli flags and the alleged assault of a government under secretary, Abdulla Shahid, Coordinator for the country’s National Disaster Management Centre (DMC) has claimed.
Shahid claimed that for the hundreds of Maldivians who had not “been too scared” to travel for a consultation or s surgical procedure on their eyes with the NGO, a free service was on offer that was only available otherwise at the country’s private medical clinics.
“There has never been such a successful camp,” he said, despite allegations of “scare mongering” and an assault on a relative of one patient arriving at a hospital for an operation with the NGO.
However, the visit of the Eye from Zion NGO, which had been working at hospitals across the country offering “eye surgery camps”, has seen a number of protests taking place against it, with high-profile politicians such as Umar Naseer and former State Islamic Minister Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed joining the movement.
Both men have claimed following a protest held in front of the Tsunami memorial on Friday December 17, that their opposition to the NGO was not anti-Semitic or targeted directly at Jews, but rather a sign of “solidarity” with fellow Muslims about concerns with Israeli foreign policy, particularly in Palestine.
Both politicians spoke along with other figures at a rally of hundreds of people gathered in Male’, some carrying banners in both Dhivehi and English with messages ranging from “Say no to Israeli terrorism” and “Jews said Allah is poor” to “We are with anyone who fights Israel & USA” and “Bloody Zionists”.
However, Shahid told Minivan News that he believed that the protests were more often the result of “political” considerations rather than solidarity with Palestinians. Therefore he claimed that for the hundreds of people screened at camps in Male’, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll and Addu Atoll, who “couldn’t afford to fly to destinations like Bangkok for specialist treatment”, the arrival of Eye from Zion staff on December 9, 2010 was an important sharing of expertise from a “knowledge-based economy”.
“From the first day [the NGO worked] at the hospitals, religious groups had begun displaying their banners outside and they even tried to attack one person. The person has since filed a complaint with the Country’s Human Rights Commission,” he claimed.
According to Shahid, the person who alleged the attack, themselves a political under secretary, claimed to have been assaulted after trying to take a relative for an operation with the Eye from Zion group, a process that was eventually carried out. The alleged victim was unavailable for comment when contacted by Minivan News at the time of going to press.
Ultimately, with the screening of some 215 people in Male’ alone, Shahid said that 16 patients had undergone surgery with Eye from Zion doctors in the capital and 104 had received consultations from the NGO. DMC figures stated meanwhile that 137 people were found to have been treated in Thinadhoo, Gaafu Dhaalu Atoll.
However, Shahid conceded that the protests, along with a campaign of “scare stories” that were being spread around the country involving “organ harvesting”, had taken their toll on numbers actually turning up for surgery, some of whom he said “were too scared to take part” in the eye camps.
“In Addu Atolll there were rumours going around that the doctors were putting strong glue in the eyes of patients,” he said. “These guys [protests organisers] need to bring surgeons to the country to help start treatments for people.”
These “stories” included claims reported by NGOs such as the Islamic Foundation of the Maldives (IFM) that it was advisable to take “precautionary measures to avoid any foul play” from Jewish doctors that were “ notorious for illegally harvesting organs from non-Jews.”
The furore over the visit of Israeli surgeons under the Eye from Zion banner has led to NGOs such as Jamiyyathusalaf to call for the provision of “military training to all Muslim Maldivians and familiarise citizens with the use of modern weaponry” before “Jews take over the country”.
Distancing itself from what it called “hysterical” statements such as these, the co-founders of the IFM told Minivan News earlier this month that they believed by adopting a “pro-Israel” stance and working with NGOs like Eye from Zion, the Maldivian government was losing support and credibility among its people.
However, Shahid claimed that from the perspective of the DMC, cooperation with specialist NGOs was seen as hugely beneficial, no matter their national origin.
“There have been several camps all set up with different NGOs. This is the first time we have had a group from Israel,” he said. “However, we don’t have any set practices in regards to what nation we invite NGOs to visit from. We would welcome help from anywhere.” Former Deputy Leader of the Dhivehi Rayyithunge Party (DRP), Umar Naseer, who had been one of the speakers at the Tsunami Memorial protest, said last week that he believed that protests continuing throughout the week were a reflection of “concern over the continued relationship” between the governments of Israel and the Maldives.
“Israel continues to bombard cities and continues to occupy Palestinian lands,” he said. “As Muslims, we have one basic principle; if one of us is hurt, we all are. Similarly, if Palestinian people suffer, so do we,” he said.
Naseer claimed that the government had turned a “blind eye to the frustrations of its people” and that the protestors believed that the “Maldives should not accept Israeli NGOs or their aid”. “Once we have settled the issue [of Palestine], then we can have normal relations,” he said.
Before resigning from his position as the Islamic State Minister on Thursday December 23, Sheikh Mohamed Shaheem Ali Saeed of the religious Adhaalath party said that he didn’t see the protests against Eye from Zion “as a religious problem” but as a reflection of dissatisfaction with Israeli foreign policy. “The thing is injustice, we are not enemies of Jews and Christians,” he said. “We don’t want Jews to kill Palestinians; they are not obeying the UN or international law.”
Prior to his speech at the Tsunami memorial protest, Miadhu last week reported that Shaheem had used his Friday sermon on the same day – December 17 – to claim that the history of Jewish people was “full of deception, trickery, rebellion, oppression, evil and corruption”.
According to the report, Shaheem had said that they [Jewish people] were always seeking to cause “mischief on the earth and Allah loves not the mischief-makers”.
“So it is not it is not acceptable that one who would stab the ummah in the heart could heal the eyes. This philosophy is not acceptable,” he said.
Shaheem did not elaborate or confirm if he had said these comments when questioned by Minivan News at the time. The former Islamic State Minister claimed that he had used his Friday Sermon to call for peaceful protest.
“I asked for no problems to be created for the [Eye from Zion] doctors,” he said.
Ultimately, Shaheem said that protests against the policies of the Israeli government have been occurring all over the world in London, Paris and New York and this didn’t mean “these people were against all Jews”.
“Our problems are with groups like Zionists,” he said.
Shaheem pointed to the London-based protestor, Brian Haw, who has spent many years camped outside London’s Houses of Parliament in part of ongoing peaceful demonstration linked to opposing UK governmental policy such as backing invading Iraq back in 2003, as a reflection of the “democratic” importance of protesting and solidarity.
“He is just one man sleeping in a tent protesting, yet he is not a Muslim,” Shaheem said.