Baltimore family travels to Israel as an ancestor is honored

A respected Palestinian physician established and ran his own hospital in Jaffa nearly 80 years ago, when the Mediterranean seaport was the cultural and commercial center of Palestine. The 55-bed stone building originally bore the name of Dr. Fuad I. Dajani, its founder. Although the name was changed decades ago, many residents still consider it Dajani Hospital.

The city, which long ago merged with Tel Aviv, Israel's second-largest metropolis, will pay homage to the doctor, who specialized in surgery and obstetrics, during a ceremony Sunday. By decree of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa City Council, the roundabout at the hospital will be renamed Dajani Square.

The honor befits a man who was dedicated to his homeland and its people, said Omar Dajani, 72, the youngest of the doctor's six children and a Baltimore resident who traveled this week to Jaffa, along with other family members who came from around the world to revisit their father's legacy.

"It is important that after all these years, people still remember his good work and deeds," he said. "He was a Palestinian who treated the needy without charge and received a medal from the British Army for his treatment of officers."

Omar Dajani was an infant when his father died in 1940 of an infection contracted from a surgical patient. The family remained in the city for eight more years until fleeing to Cairo, Egypt, during the Arab-Israeli War. Two years later the cities of Jaffa and Tel Aviv were merged into one municipality.

"Many Palestinians stayed on in the city, which today has many non-Jewish residents," he said. "Many of them were born at Dajani Hospital or have a family member born there."

Omar Dajani continued his education in England and eventually came to the U.S. to attend college. He became an American citizen in 1969, worked in international trade, traveled extensively and has lived for many years in Northwest Baltimore.

The hospital building that originally bore his father's name still stands. The family's first home was on the grounds of the hospital, and the doctor is buried there.

Omar Dajani's daughter, Tanya Dajani, also a Baltimore resident, accompanied him on the journey that began Tuesday; a son who is based in Hong Kong will meet them in Jerusalem. From there, they will travel to Jaffa. Omar Dajani said he has often spoken to his children about their grandfather, and they have been told the city will be filled with posters honoring the Dajani family during this weekend's festivities.

It will be his children's first trip to the Middle East, and he plans to show them the sights from his boyhood, the hospital and the gravestone of their grandfather.

"I never knew my father, but I am proud of him," he said. "This dedication shows many remember him."

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