By Susan Schwartz
The nation was stunned early last month when three young Muslim students were shot to death on the campus of the University of North Carolina. Deah Barakat, a 23 year old dental student, his wife, Yusor Mohammed Abu-Salha, and his wife’s sister, Razan abu-Salha, were killed by Craig Stephen Hicks in what police were terming a possible dispute over a parking spot. While the perpetrator is in police custody, there is within the Muslim community a sense that a darker motive might have been behind the attacks.
In the immediate aftermath of the killings social media were filled with postings about the three young people, many giving reminiscences of personal interactions with the victims.
Deah Barakat was 23 years old and a second year dental student. One of the first postings about him was on the Facebook account of Steve Sosebee, the CEO of the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF).
PCRF is the world’s largest children’s charity and is devoted to meeting the medical needs of children in the Middle East. Among their many services the PCRF routinely sends teams of medical/dental personnel to the occupied Palestinian territories to care for the children there and to act as teachers for the medical personnel in place. Barakat travelled to the occupied Palestinian territories in December 2012 as part of a medical mission.
“We were honored to have such a bright light here in Palestine helping our kids, said Mr. Sosebee.”
Maha Madani, a social field work supervisor in the Tulkarem-Qalqilia region, remembers Barakat as a person full of energy who was always smiling and playing with the children who would be his patients.
Many of the children were special needs children and might have been easily intimidated by a serious demeanor. Instead Alzakah Hospital became a playground as well as a place for attending to the dental needs of young patients. If a disabled child could not walk, Barakat would carry him. He brought food and water to the children.
When Barakat was finished treating his patients he would give them toys and dental equipment and instruct them and an accompanying parent in proper care.
Dr. Khaled Abughazaleh, BDS, DMD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Oral Maxillo Facial Surgery and the Chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of the PCRF. He has shared some of the memories of Barakat created in the brief but profound interaction the two had. Barakat, a Syrian-American, was working with the Syrian American Medical Society. He sought to raise money for a relief trip to Rihaniya, Turkey where he and other dentists would volunteer at one of the group’s clinics for Syrian refugee children. In the wake of his death money has poured into the project, and it will not have to be postponed as Barakat believed at the time of his death.
Barakat was devoted to helping people, particularly special needs children who formed the bulk of his patient load. Many of these children were autistic or had Downs syndrome.
Barakat worked with the group, Muslims without Borders, with the PCRF acting as coordinator.
His working group was divided into three parts. The Israeli occupation with its attendant harassments – checkpoints being a classic example – has adversely impacted dental health in the occupied Palestinian territories.
In death Barakat brought awareness of the Muslim cause. The world is poorer for his loss.