Friday, 1 August 2014

"Remember Us"

This book was, in retrospect, reviewed on impulse.

But the "emissary" said I just had to, had to read it. Maybe she was that blown away by the tale of that 14-year-old who followed her dad to Gaza.

To a certain degree, I was. Perhaps you'd be, too.

A book that does more than tell stories

first published in The Malay Mail Online, 01 August 2014

Palestine has always been an emotional topic, so I've largely stayed out of it. But a tiny piece of Palestine arrived at my desk, begging me for a look.

"I visited an NGO and they gave me this," said the emissary, who even bookmarked a couple of what she thought were the best parts.

Remember Us: Stories of Struggles, Hopes and Dreams is a project by Viva Palestina Malaysia (VPM), a group of NGOs pushing for the creation of a free sovereign Palestinian state.

This book puts together poems, short stories and real-life accounts of what's going on in the area by residents and visiting activists. What's striking is that the contributors and the "creative editors" are all women.

Even before I opened the first page I knew what I'd find inside. The Malaysian pro-Palestinian bias is pretty thick, and while some also blame certain quarters within the Palestinian resistance for their role in prolonging the conflict, none of the contributors seem to feel that way.

Most, if not all of the non-fiction accounts, read like dispatches from oh so many online news portals that have been bringing the horrors of the conflict to audiences, telling them of their sojourns into hostile territory and of the lives of those who live there.

An old woman who kept the keys to her home that she was driven away from, clinging on to the hope that she would return to it.

The frustrations of a young lady whose life and pastimes are dampened by daily power supply interruptions.

Another young lady's visit to a foreign country (mine) and her written exchange with American academic Noam Chomsky (really?).

Yet another young lady's anguish and fury at the death of her friends in the hands of Israeli forces, which she says makes her a "terrorist" because "I want the Palestinian refugees to get their land back, and I call the Israeli army a group of cold-hearted murderers all the time."

She makes a particular mention of one young victim. "Haneen did not know what a cold-hearted murderer is... She was a 6-year-old girl who was split into little pieces while in bed. Haneen was too young to die. But who cares about Haneen's death, anyway? She was a terrorist, too."

Among the several Malaysian contributors was a 14-year-old girl (by now I'm all "where are all the men OMG so embarrassed for my gender") who was brought to visit Gaza by her dad, the chairman of VPM; it's her adventure that this book's emissary was gushing about.

Said 14-year-old's short entry ends with a small punch in the gut: "I hope one day I will get the chance to visit Gaza again to volunteer and make myself useful, instead of just finishing their limited supplies of food."

Now, the editing could be tighter, the flow between stories better managed, the cover better designed, and the overall narrative tips heavily towards the Palestinians. But all this melts under the heat of the emotions that emanate from the pages. One can't help but wonder...

What would life for these people be, devoid of the fear of missiles in their living rooms, their roofs collapsing on top of them at night, being picked off by snipers or stray bullets while buying produce at the market, and being dragged away from some checkpoint by armed men, possibly never to return?

What would these people achieve in a world where the air is clean, free of the smell of explosives and burning flesh, chemicals from supposedly forbidden weapons and the wails of grieving fathers, mothers and children? Where they are allowed to live like free people should?

What would it take for the world to stand up, cast aside its collective historical and mental baggage, and do something to make it happen? And not just in the territories occupied by Israel?

It's perhaps a pity that we only get to hear 20 or so voices here, and even these may be forgotten, silenced and swept away by yet another tide of hate, anger, grief, outrage and indignation raised by a fresh salvo of bombs and bullets.

But to resign oneself to this would be an act of surrender, and none of the contributors — Palestinians and Malaysians alike — want to do that just yet. As long as there are those who speak up from and for the occupied territories, the plight of its people — and hope for their freedom — will never be forgotten.

This book is a project by Viva Palestina Malaysia. More information on VPM can be found at their web site; more information on the book can be found here.

Punctuation for one paragraph in this version has been changed. The previously supplied Facebook link is bad; the right Facebook page appears to be this one.

Remember Us
Stories of Struggles, Hopes and Dreams

Zabrina A. Bakar and Husna Musa (editors)
Wise Words Publishing (2013)
178 pages
Mix of fiction and non-fiction
ISBN: 978-967-12261-0-0

Get the book from

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