Monday, October 17, 2016

The Awakening of Dr Swee

One of the best personal accounts I have ever read of the journey from (Palestine) ignorance to (Palestine) awareness may be found in the memoir From Beirut to Jerusalem: A Woman Surgeon with the Palestinians (1989) by the remarkable and saintly British-Singaporean doctor, Swee Chai Ang.*

Her awakening came in 1982, in the context of Israel's brutal invasion and occupation of Lebanon. Here she is at the beginning of her journey:

"Lebanon and Beirut were were unfamiliar names to me, but Israel was not: my church had taught me that the children of Israel had were the chosen people of God. Many of my Christian friends held that the gathering of the Jews from all over the world into the State of Israel was the fulfilment of scriptural prophecies.

"Israel had my support for other reasons. In London, I had spent hours watching television programmes which showed how appallingly the Jewish people had suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Both of my parents had suffered at the hands of the Nazis' allies, the Japanese Imperial Army. As a refugee in a foreign country, I understood what it meant to be stateless. The creation of the State of Israel, giving the Jews a home free from persecution, seemed to me to be an act of justice - even one of divine justice.

"The newspapers said that the Israeli invasion of Lebanon had made a hundred thousand people homeless and had killed fourteen thousand, and this upset me terribly. I could not understand why Israel had done this. There had to be a good reason for it. Most of the news stories in Britain depicted the invasion as an attempt by Israel to flush out the Palestine Liberation Organisation - or PLO - from its bases in Lebanon. All I knew about the PLO was that it was an Arab group which hijacked passenger jets, planted bombs and hated Jews.

"Some of my Christian elders told me that the Palestinians were the descendants of the Philistines of the Old Testament, and everyone knew that the giant Goliath was a conquering Philistine who terrorised his opponents. The tale of David and Goliath had been one of my favourites when I was a Sunday school teacher: I loved telling my kids how little David brought down the mighty Goliath. (I am a couple of inches under five foot tall myself.)

"From the news coverage, however, it looked as though Israel had turned into Goliath: a swaggering giant bringing destruction, terror and death to neighbouring Lebanon. An Israeli leader told the press that much as he regretted the casualties, to make an omelette one first had to crack eggs.

"Crack eggs? That remark shocked me. What kind of 'omelette' was Israel trying to make, and were the people of Lebanon eggs to be cracked? It was clear from the news reports that nearly all of the people who had been killed, wounded or made homeless were civilians, many of them women or children. Bombing civilians is a disgraceful way to make war. The bombs fell for days: on playgrounds, cemeteries, houses, hospitals, schools and factories. Even International Red Cross ships bringing food and medical supplies to Beirut were targets." (pp 1-3)

Now here she is at the end of her journey of discovery:

"The Palestinian-Israeli conflict exists because Israel could only be created over the destruction of Palestine and the expulsion of its people. In 1988, the State of Israel celebrated forty years of existence; while the Palestinian exiles remembered the loss of their homeland. For Israel to flourish, all traces of Palestine had to be obliterated. The wounds inflicted by Israel go on festering; Israeli bombs cause death and destruction; torture and mutilation in Israeli detention camps, such as the Ansar camps, will take more than a lifetime to fade from the memory. And Israelis complain that the Palestinians refuse to 'recognise' the State of Israel. After being forced to give up their country, their homes - even their lives - the Palestinians are being asked to surrender their souls to the victors." (p 246)

[*See Dr Swee in action in one of the most moving talks I have ever heard: Making a Small Difference: TEDxUCLWoman,]


Anonymous said...

Thanks for publishing this eloquent and moving account of Dr Swee Chai Ang and her journey of awareness.

MERC said...

Watch the video. She is amazing!