IT would be remiss to speak of Malaysia’s support for the Palestinian cause without referring to Dr Ang Swee Chai’s experience as an orthopaedic surgeon serving in al-Ahli Arab Hospital in Gaza City during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.
Beautifully narrated in her “love letter” From Beirut to Jerusalem, her experience is instrumental in reminding Malaysians how global humanitarian struggles provide the chance for us to strengthen our voices in unison to defend justice regardless of our colour and faith.
It has been more than a month since the ongoing Israeli atrocities in Palestine. More than 4,500 dead children, and 3,000 women – civilians, journalists, United Nations (UN) staff and healthcare workers – were recorded in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.
In total, more than 10,000 Palestinian lives have been lost, with more than 1.5 million displaced due to the continuous bombardment of UN Refugee Schools (UNRWA), hospitals, churches, and mosques, including repeated attacks on refugee camps.
Two premature babies recently also died at Gaza’s al-Shifa Hospital after the neonatal intensive care unit stopped working due to a lack of electricity.
Numerous families have been completely obliterated, with most victims experiencing the most excruciating of deaths, with confirmed accounts of the illegal use of white phosphorus incendiaries on civilians.
Imagine the thousands of children, some below five, experiencing the intense burn (about 815°C) as they breathed their last.
The oft-repeated justification of self-defence by Israel has been completely demolished through the disproportionate response that it has unleashed on all Gazans as well as Palestinians in the West Bank but also by virtue of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 2004, which found Israel’s West Bank security barrier to be illegal.
It is not self-defence when you are trespassing and occupying the land belonging to others.
As so many have said before – from former US President Jimmy Carter to academic Norman Finklestein – Israel is holding Palestinians captive in an open-air concentration camp.
Gaza residents face acute shortages of water, electricity, food, and medical supplies, all the while coping with an ever-fragile healthcare system.
The blockade, which remains in force, contravenes international law and constitutes a collective punishment against the Gaza population.
The restriction of vital supplies, which is yet another brazen breach of the Geneva Convention and the Hague Convention, serves as a sobering reminder of the callous impunity by Israel and its allies like the United States.
As the nation that, under Prof Gurdial Singh’s legislative lead, brought Amos Yaron and the Israel Government to book through the KL War Crimes Tribunal in 2013 for the Sabra-Shatila massacre, Malaysia has always led based on a moral compass.
Moving forward, there are a few actions we should consider.
First, with growing awareness of the impact of an economic boycott, it’s important to look at the latest movements by states across the USA in response to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign.
To date, twenty-seven states in the US have adopted laws or policies that punish either businesses, organisations or individuals that call for boycotts against Israel, including against Israel’s actions in building illegal settlements.
This knee-jerk response showcases just how effective the BDS campaign has been.
Rather than a sporadic boycott, a greater impact against the wrongful actions of a rogue state is to adopt the recommendations provided by the BDS movement.
Not only are these recommendations grounded on research but they were also inspired by the South African anti-apartheid movement, urging nonviolent pressure on Israel until it complies with international law.
Clearly, the counter-movement in the US states against the BDS movement is nothing short of punishment for those who stand for justice and fairness. It is a movement that we should rally towards.
Secondly, Khazanah and Yayasan Hasanah have been supporting postgraduate education for Palestinian students in various fields at local universities such as IIUM, UTM, USM, UM, UKM and UPM.
This programme which ended in 2019, along with continued support towards existing Palestinian students should be reintroduced and expanded further.
Similarly, projects under the Fugee School (mainly Somali and Afghan students), as well as the Malaysian Relief Agency (MRA), which runs one of the oldest Rohingya schools, Yayasan Chow Kit, Baitul Mahabbah among others, should receive matching support and principled adoption to ensure it operates sustainably.
It’s quite saddening to note the rather negative reception that followed the Education Minister’s visit to privately-run refugee schools.
Indeed, we can certainly be a better Malaysia for Gaza by lending consistent support to victims of massacres and conflict, both at home and abroad.
Indeed, Malaysia should consider allowing employment and greater access to education for refugees so they are able to pursue meaningful and dignified living. According to UNICEF Malaysia, two out of every three refugee children still do not have access to any kind of education.
We just need to look at Turkiye’s 2016 experience to realise that the nation’s refugee population policy has resulted in a positive impact on Turkish economic output, leading to their unexpected rise in third-quarter growth of that year.
Thirdly, Malaysia can, along with Indonesia and Turkiye, pledge to rebuild our hospitals, libraries and mosques in Palestine, which were targeted and destroyed by Israeli missiles.
The RM100 mil raised for humanitarian aid for Gaza, and delivered in phases via the Humanitarian Fund marks an important first step, but more needs to be done to end the ongoing “ethnic cleansing, collective punishment and war crimes” (UN experts) in Palestine.
As we continue the call for an immediate ceasefire to end the ongoing genocide in Gaza and the West Bank, we can begin the steps to improve the lives of the remaining Palestinians and refugees in this country while acting strategically to economically isolate a rogue state.
With the US and the West’s complicity, the genocide persists and the ugliest form of barbarism is unleashed for the world to see.
As Tan Sri Andrew Sheng said, “The West is no better than any other barbarians at the gate. At best, just another barbarian claiming to be civilised; at worst, a West that seeks only to hold onto its golden past of colonialism and mental superiority.”
Malaysia must do what is right for there always remains a choice and Malaysia must continue to make the right one. – Nov 13, 2023
Nurul Izzah Anwar is a Keadilan vice president while Dr Yolanda Augustin is a healthcare activist.
The views expressed are solely of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Focus Malaysia.
Main pic credit: Asharq Al-Awsat