September seems to be a month for atrocities and tragedies.
The Massacres at Sabra and Shatila
On the 16th of September, 1982, a Lebanese Christian militia faction known as the Phalange entered two Palestinian refugee camps and massacred up to 3,500 of its inhabitants. The camps were named Sabra and Shatila (sometimes spelled ‘Chatila’), and were located close to one another.
Taking place over a day and a half or so, it was a horrific act of violence that has reverberated to this day. To this day, no one has actually been prosecuted for these crimes – not the fascist Phalangists, nor their Israel Defense Forces backers, nor the then-Israel minister of defence and former prime minister, Ariel Sharon.
That events is one of solemn and tragic remembrance. What occurred in that time, in that corner of southern Lebanon, is well recounted here: ‘Sabra and Shatila: On massacres, atrocities and holocausts’.
The article includes a brief reference from Dr Ang Swee Chai. A courageous woman about whom I first read about some years ago, Dr Ang was then working with the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in the Palestinian Territories. Malaysian-born, Singapore-raised and since the early 1970s based in the UK, she was a devout Christian and up till then, a staunch Israel supporter. Dr Ang couldn’t comprehend, at first, the events surrounding the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982; it came as a shock to her. She was in the vicinity of the camps when the massacres occurred, and was a witness to its aftermath.
All this was the beginning of a long and eye-opening journey into the realm of geopolitics, international aid, human rights discourse and humanitarian work. I’m sure that she would say, as a Christian, the journey has been a very fruitful one.
What made the plucky Dr Ang all the more interesting was that she is the wife of a political dissident from Singapore, and had left the country to join her husband in the UK in the 1970s.
I admire how she supported her husband for his beliefs, and bore whatever costs came their way; leaving a (semi-) authoritarian state, where its government publicly expounds and identifies with pro-Israel sentiments in order to justify some of its own domestic and foreign policies.
Every time I come across stories of people like Dr Ang, it makes me – on very rare occasions in my life – to feel proud of being a Singaporean.
September…a month of remembrance.
Postscript: Dr Ang founded a medical charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians, in the UK after* the time of the massacres, and also became an orthopaedic consultant to the World Health Organisation in the Gaza Strip until 1989. It was around this time that she published a book of her experiences, From Beirut To Jerusalem.
*Updated: 18 September.
Sabra and Shatila massacre (Wikipedia)