Obituary: Dr Amin Majaj

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The Independent Culture
AMIN MAJAJ was a brilliant physician and a devoted public servant who enjoyed a wide circle of friends in Britain as well as in the Arab world. In the late Forties and Fiftiese he made detailed researches into malnutrition and its attendant diseases among children in the Palestinian refugee camps, and devised treatments for them.

Born in Ramallah in 1921 to a well known Christian family that belonged to the Anglican Episcopalian Church, Majaj was educated at St George's High School in Jerusalem (part of the Anglican bishopric), going on to the American University of Beirut in 1945 and to London University, where he studied medicine, specialising in child health.

Back in Jordan, Majaj was confronted by a new and challenging situation. There were now half a million refugees from Palestine in Jordanian camps, kept alive by Unwra rations. Many children were dying from gastro-enteritis and deficiency diseases.

Majaj realised that malnutrition among mothers was making breast-feeding ineffective and that lack of animal protein in the rations was the cause of iron deficiency anaemia, and protein deficiency resulting in diseases such as kwashiorkor. The remedy, a diet rich in animal proteins and vitamin B12 injections, was easier to recommend than to implement.

His researches continued until the children's wards in the Augusta Victoria Hospital in Jerusalem, where Majaj worked as head of the paediatrics department from 1950 to 1991, received a direct hit when the Israelis invaded the West Bank during the 1967 war.

Majaj published the results of his researches in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 1966, in the Gazette of the Egyptian Paediatric Association of 1960 and in British and German medical journals. He was paediatrician at the Makased Islamic Hospital in Jerusalem from 1967 to 1982 (director from 1977), as well as on the board of hospitals in Gaza and Nablus.

He was on the Jerusalem municipal council from 1950 and at the time of his death was acting mayor of East Jerusalem. He also served as a member of the Jordan parliament from 1967 to 1988, and as Minister of Health in 1957 and in 1964. Among his many other responsibilities he took over direction of Musa Alami's Arab Development Society in Jericho, which took boys out of Palestinian refugee camps to teach them agricultural and other skills.

Amin Majaj was a delightful man, making little of his many achievements in medicine and politics, humorous and the best of company. In his youth he had been a violinist of professional standard. Life under Israeli occupation was never easy for him, but his refusal to compromise his beliefs as a healer, a researcher, or a Palestinian provided an example admired by all.

In 1947 he married Betty Dagher from Lebanon, who is presently director of the Princess Basma Centre for Disabled Children in Jerusalem.

Amin Majaj, physician: born Ramallah, Palestine 21 March 1921; married 1947 Betty Dagher (one son, three daughters); died Jerusalem 2 January 1999.