Friday, September 19, 2003

In search of the truth in Palestine

Book Review
From Beirut to Jerusalem

by Dr Ang Swee Chai
Review by Sadna Saifuddin

She is a self-professed fundamentalist Christian. She used to hate Arabs because they, she was told, are terrorists. Yet an open and compassionate heart drove her thousands of kilometres across the globe, giving up the comfort of her London flat, to help the Palestinians. Alongside these Arabs, she "fought" the Israeli occupation and destruction of land.

Dr Ang Swee Chai, a Penang-born orthopaedic surgeon who grew up in Singapore, shared her eye-opening experience in Palestine - she worked at hospital camps there as a volunteer- at the launch of her book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, in Petaling Jaya recently.

To her the Israelis could do no wrong; she even supported their cause by collecting money while teaching Sunday school. But she says her view began to change after she watched events unfold in the Middle East one fateful night in 1982.

"I was watching the news in my flat in London, and there was relentless bombing. I don't know where or who they were bombing but one thing I did recognise: it was Israeli planes that were dropping the bombs. I asked myself, ‘Is this the same Israel that we were taught about in church?"'

What she saw shocked her and led her to search for an answer. She began asking her Christian and Jewish friends about the situation in the Middle East but failed to get the answers she hoped for.

"Finally I turned to God and asked him why," she said. It was then that she heard about an international appeal for an orthopaedic surgeon to treat war victims in Beirut. Believing it was an answer from God, she resigned from her job, bade her husband farewell and hopped on the plane.

She still remembers how she cried the moment she stepped foot in Beirut, but what she experienced there for the next few years marked her for life. The slaughter of unarmed women, children, the aged and the infirm was agonising to watch. She was there during the Sabra and Shatila massacres. She saw heaps of dead bodies on both sides of the road, some mutilated, with their eyes dug out and electric wires tied around limbs, some already decayed. Bodies of little children were in pools of blood after a bombing, and women, with their clothes removed, bore marks of being beaten up, and tortured to death. Her journey - and the ensuing attempts to make sense of the past and future - changed the woman once so devoted to supporting Israel and its cause.

She has also testified at the Israeli Kahane Commission, which investigated the massacres, and the commission concluded that the then Defence Minister Ariel Sharon bore "personal responsibility" for the massacre. Though she was awarded with the Star of Palestine by President Yasser Arafat in recognition of her selfless contribution to the Palestinian struggle, her true hope was to educate people about the injustice in the Middle East.

"The suffering of the Palestinians is made possible not only through Israel, the Israeli army, and American support but also through the rest of us being ignorant and stupid.

"Before I met the Palestinians, I was equally ignorant and stupid. If I had been able to vote at the time, I would have voted for the destruction of the Palestinian people. I think a lot of mistakes are made through ignorance."

While she tirelessly worked in Palestine, her husband Francis Khoo helped raise money and manage all the publicity efforts through Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a charity formed by the husband-and-wife team and several medical workers in 1984.

The launch began with a BBC documentary on Dr Ang, with some chilling footage of little children being beaten up by Israeli soldiers, the havoc in the hospital when a 10-year-old girl with more than a thousand bullet fragments in her body was brought in, the Israeli army deliberately shooting at people inside a hospital, as well as interviews with both the civilians in Palestine and the army of Israel. During one interview, an Israeli soldier reluctantly confessed that he had beaten up Palestinian children, some as young as six.

Dr Ang chose the title From Beirut to Jerusalem because, she says, it is the living wish and dying hope ofevery single Palestinian in the diaspora that they will one day be able to return to Jerusalem.

Courtesy: New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, 18 Dec 2002.

Note: SubhanAllah, a very touching yet informative book. It's an eye opener to all, to wake up from our dreams. A book that must and must and must be read by all. A special token of appreciation and love to my sister, Mar who gave me the book as a gift.

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