Sundance doctor aids Mideast

Bob Tucker, Regional Editor
June 17, 1982

By next week, Sundance, Wyo., physician Dr. Mohammad Said will be in Damascus, Syria, helping patch together the human wreckage of Israeli-Palestine Liberation Organization fighting that has left nearly 10,000 people dead and twice as many wounded.

Israel invaded Lebanon June 9 to drive out the Syrians, stamp out the PLO and push its artillery out of striking range from Israeli civilians.

When the Israeli military “finds pockets of resistance they flatten the whole area to kill one person,” Said said in an interview Wednesday while in Rapid City, showing relatives around the Black Hills. “They have the most powerful technology and they’re using it brilliantly – but inhumanely.”

Said, 42, is a Palestinian born in the Israeli seaport city of Haifa. In 1948 his family left what was then Palestine, as Arabs and Jews fought over what was about to become the state of Israel. He is especially bitter about the latest fighting.

“As a doctor with a Palestinian background and as an American who believes in humanity,’’ Said volunteered for a 10-day stint in Damascus because “I feel sympathy for those suffering. I don’t think it was right what they (Israel) did. It could have been done in another way.”

By killing thousands of civilians to get at PLO strongholds in Lebanon, Israel has probably stiffened PLO resistance and Arab resentment while setting back the peace process that much more, Said believes.

Said spent his high school years in Jerusalem. After attending medical school in Spain and staying with a brother in Canada, Said came in 1974 to North Dakota, one of the few states at the time that didn’t require a special visa. He practiced medicine several years in Carrington, Fargo and Hankinson, N.D., and briefly in Corsica, S.D., before signing on at the three-doctor Sundance Clinic three months ago.

He’ll leave for New York from Fargo Friday, dropping his family off, with Palestinian friends in Wahpeton, N.D., until his return. After picking up medical supplies in New York, Said will fly Saturday to Amman, Jordan, then try to cross the border to the Syrian capital.

Every available space is being used in Damascus to treat what Said understands are thousands of wounded citizens being transported from Beirut. Medical supplies and doctors are arriving from various Arab countries, the U.S. and the Red Cross. Other than that, Said doesn’t know what to expect. But his eight years of internal medicine and family practice in small towns of the Dakotas will probably help him cope with a variety of injuries, he said.

The volunteer medical effort is being coordinated by such groups as the Islamic Medical Association of the United States and the Palestinian- American Congress, which asked Said to go to Damascus. Said left private practice in North Dakota in order to join a program allowing him to work short stints in rural clinics – leaving time for humanitarian work like treating earthquake victims in Iran last year. After his week in Syria he’ll return to Sundance and practice there at least until July 18, when his contract ends. At that time, he’ll decide whether to stay in Sundance or return to the Middle East.

But with Dr. Said, talk about medicine inevitably leads to more passionate talk of war and politics. He feels the PLO and the Palestinian cause – to secure an autonomous nation within their native land – gets a bum rap in the American press.

He admits there is an extremist, terrorist PLO faction. But he said the group also operates clinics, has social workers and acts as a voice for the aspirations of Palestinians who want a homeland.

Although they may not agree with the violent tactics, Said said “99 percent of the Palestinians sympathize with the PLO because they’re afraid they are going to become like (American) Indians in their own country. They’re afraid they’ll be pushed onto reservations.”