Bilal and Samir

Swee Chai Ang

Just over a year ago, on the last day of 1986, ‘a small boy called Bilal was crossing an alley in the Palestinian refugee camp of Bourj al Barajneh in southern Beirut. High in a building outside the camp a sniper belonging to the Amal militia was watching the alleyway. When Bilal came into his sights he squeezed the trigger.’ With these words Pauline Cutting opens her fine account[*] of the eighteen months she spent as a surgeon at the camp. Bilal was found to be paralysed from the waist down: he is one of two boys who were taken for treatment to Stoke Mandeville hospital in England, and with whom I am about to return to Beirut. Reading Pauline’s book has been no easy task for me, bringing back as it does an experience I shared with her, an experience both bitter and sweet which I would in many ways be glad to forget. But how could I do so?

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[*] Children of the Siege by Pauline Cutting. Heinemann, 208 pp., £12.95 and £3.50, 8 January, 0 434 15908 5.