Last Saturday Al Mayadeen, a pan-Arabist satellite television channel in Lebanon interviewed Singaporean Medical professional, Dr. Ang Swee Chai (Dr. Swee Chai Ang.) who is the co-Founder and Patron of British Charity Medical Aid for Palestinians on the open letter which she and another 23 wrote in regards to the Gaza conflict. She recounts her experience being deported from Israel and states her views on the Gaza conflict.
Below is the transcript of the interview conducted.
Question : Why was the Lancet letter www.thelancet.com/gaza-letter-2014 which has 24 signatories of doctors and scientists published?
Dr. Ang: All the authors and signatories fear the worse at the beginning of this crisis which erupted in early July based on their previous experience. However the situation has got much worse since the publication of the letter. Gaza has already been declared a disaster area by the UK government.
Despite the destruction of infrastructure, doctors and healthcare workers in Gaza continued to work despite severe conditions and their personal circumstances. Their own homes are being destroyed and families killed, and to be landed with more than 12,000 wounded is simply overwhelming for any medical system. That this is why Swee and her surgical colleagues wanted to assist by volunteering to go to Gaza.
As of yesterday (22 August 2014) the death toll reached 2083, with 50% women and children. Eighty five families were annihilated, and 12,656 injured. Forty five clinics and fifteen hospital were destroyed (two of the hospitals completely flattened), 8 fire stations, 1 ambulance station. Health institutions should be protected as sanctuaries under international law for the wounded and sick people, but they were targeted.
Question: You and your consultant surgical colleague have just been deported as you entered Israel to get to Gaza…elaborate.
Dr. Ang: They first gave me a three month Israeli visa of the B2 type when they thought I was a tourist. Then when they realized I was going to Gaza, my colleague and I were taken aside and interrogated in a very humiliating way for three hours, following that we were detained, and deported after around 16-17 hours.
But the personal humiliation, detention and deportation is not the worst part. It is the realisation that this is part of the siege imposed on Gaza. The siege does not only apply to medical equipment and supplies for Gaza but also to people who want to get to Gaza to assist. They can stop me from getting to Gaza but they cannot stop me from caring for and supporting the Palestinians, and they cannot stop the world from knowing about what they do to Palestinians. These crimes committed against Palestinians cannot be covered up. I will raise my voice and say what happened in Gaza. Gaza was shelled with tons of ammunition and depleted uranium which not only kill immediately but leave residues which emit radioactive rays causing malformations in utero and miscarriages . And this will continue despite repeated ceasefires.
Gazans want to rebuild their broken homes but building materials are blockaded. People have no choice but to rebuild their broken homes with rubble contaminated with radioactive uranium as the siege continues. What do you want them to do? They have no choice but to rebuild their homes over mounds of destruction and ‘nuclear’ waste. Even if the war stops, these rays will have an impact on people’s lives.
Question: Is Britain and the USA complicit in this?
Dr. Ang: I will not say that all of Britain and the US are complicit. Some in high positions are. But I can tell you that within a week of having published the Lancet letter, we got 20,000 signatures endorsing the letter. But there are others who are protesting against the letter at the same time. And there are people who have been subjected to threats via email saying that if you continue to support Palestinians you will be killed. But we must say what we have to say, this is the truth. This is what is happening, massacres, and if we are silent in the face of massacres we would not be fit to be doctors and scientists. We have to be witnesses.
32 years ago, I was a doctor supporting Israel, and my family and I used to support Israel. But when Israel invaded and occupied Lebanon in 1982, and bombed Lebanon for ten weeks, I could not tolerate it anymore. I decided not to support Israel and volunteered to help the wounded in Lebanon. Later I went to Gaza. My life changed, when I went to Lebanon, I went to Sabra and Shatilla, and I did not find terrorists. I found a people who are patient, gentle and generous and they welcomed me, amidst their enormous suffering. But they were labeled as terrorists. After the evacuation of the PLO, when they were defenceless, they were massacred. I went back after the attack (1982), and I found that some of the patients I treated were killed. I went back to London, and continued with my work and it is impossible to say nothing.
For 32 years, I decided not to be silent , and will speak up for Palestinians as a witness to what happened to them. I am also a friend of the Palestinians. So wherever I go I will talk about what happened to Palestinians and the injustice which they have been enduring, and I will do this until I die.
Interviewer: You have written a book: From Beirut to Jerusalem, and spoken up , but since that time, there is no change for the Palestinians. You were very angry. Let me read a bit from the Gaza letter:
“We register with dismay that only 5% of our Israeli academic colleagues signed an appeal to their government to stop the military operation against Gaza. We are tempted to conclude that with the exception of this 5%, the rest of the Israeli academics are complicit in the massacre and destruction of Gaza. We also see the complicity of our countries in Europe and North America in this massacre and the impotence once again of the international institutions and organisations to stop this massacre”
The letter is directed to Who?
Dr. Ang: This paragraph refers to all people who are guilty of knowing that the massacre is going on and yet say nothing. They are complicit in the crime. There are also the people who deliberately cover it up. It is our duty and that of Mayadeen to inform the world of what is happening. But when we speak up, many attacked us because they were complicit in this crime , and tried to cover up what is happening by intimidating and silencing us. For example deporting doctors so that we do not see and witness what is happening. But they forget that the Palestinian doctors are still there, and they can tell the world what is going on because they are there. For the rest of the world, some do not take a stand because of lack of knowledge and it is our role to inform them. Others are worried about speaking up through fear, but we must support them to take a stand.
Question: What do you think of Israel’s attack on people, children etc., why do you think they are killing them?
Dr. Ang: I am very sad because only 10% of Israel want the massacre to stop and the rest want it to continue. In other words the other 90% of Israelis want Palestinians chucked out or killed, and this is compatible with ethnic cleansing and mass extermination, a strong word, but what is happening in Gaza is an attempted or incremental genocide..
Question: Why do you decide to publish the letter in the Lancet?
Dr. Ang: As you know this is a strong letter. many editors have difficulty with it. But we know the Lancet is a prestigious journal, and Richard Horton took the risk in publishing this. He knows Palestine well, since several years. His conscience made him publish this letter. He is paying a high price for publishing the letter. There is a nasty campaign to get him fired.
Thank you the founder of Medical Aid for Palestinians and for all your words about your voice as doctors and humanitarians