Home » Lending Sri Lanka’s Voice to the Palestinian Cause

Lending Sri Lanka’s Voice to the Palestinian Cause


Photo courtesy of Lanka News Web

Although Sri Lanka is a world away from Palestine local activists, motivated by the slaughter and suffering that the Palestinian people are undergoing in their own land each day, are carrying out a concerted campaign to bring their plight to the notice of politicians and people here.

While by no means an influential actor on the world stage the country, which has a long history of support for Palestine, can do much more than it is to back the Palestinian cause. A group of activists, who bonded over spontaneous protests that sprang up against Israel’s genocide and communicate on a 240 member WhatsApp group, have formed the Free Palestine Movement, which includes the Zionist Watch Group and Sri Lanka for Palestine. Duties such as creating awareness, working with the Palestine Embassy, organising protests, lobbying the government and monitoring Zionist behaviour are divided among the groups. They also convey the message through art, poetry readings, performances, plays and film screenings.

At the moment the government is playing to both sides by one hand sending a million dollars to aid the children of Gaza and voting for a ceasefire at the UN while on the other opening a consulate in Haifa, dispatching a ship to the Red Sea at huge cost, sending workers to Israel, starting direct flights to Tel Aviv and encouraging Israeli tourists to come in. Other countries such as Norway and Spain have recognised the Palestinian state while the Maldives has banned Israelis from entering and Bolivia has severed diplomatic ties with Israel.

“We need to make a stronger stance because it’s a genocide that is happening in real time so I don’t think we can be pandering to both sides,” said activist Amana Zahid.

“Politics of playing to both sides is old politics and belongs to a bygone generation. Younger generations are in favour of principled stances; they are fed of the hypocrisy of the political culture…It reveals a lack of political stature and integrity. I wish we had stronger elders to be examples to young people on good values,” said playwright and activist Ruwanthie de Chickera.

Many governments, civil society organisations and influential individuals have expressed horror and disgust at the genocide and ethnic cleansing taking place in real time for the world to see in graphic detail. Yet, backed and armed by US president Joe Biden, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and other former colonisers Israel, as an occupying power, continues to enjoy impunity while breaking almost every international humanitarian law known to the world including the Geneva Convention, the Genocide Convention and a host of other UN conventions. Women and children in particular are the hardest hit victims of Israel’s relentless onslaught on a helpless population. The former colonial powers, driven by a combination of arms exports, holocaust guilt, oil requirements and the need for a counter to Arab nations in the Middle East, continue to send weapons, bombs and ammunition to Israel despite opposition from the UN and their own people.

On a recent visit to Sri Lanka Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard said that worldwide, there has been a breakdown of the system that was established in 1948 for the protection of human rights and a breakdown of the international rule of law; those violating international law justified their violations and by so doing, they were emptying out international law.

“Many of the actors that are driving the process are those that championed the 1948 international system such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Russia and China. All of these actors are driving the collapse of the international rules based order,” she said.

However, some courageous nations and international institutions are fighting back in support of the besieged Palestinians such as South Africa, which took a case against Israel in the International Court of Justice for the crime of genocide. The International Criminal Court is considering issuing arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Ismail Haniyeh and Ibrahim Al-Masri.

Israel and its allies justify the genocide on the basis of self-defence. In international humanitarian law there is the principle of proportionality, which states that the “incidental and involuntary harm caused to the civilian population during a military attack must not be excessive in relation to the direct military advantage gained”. Last week, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) attacked a refugee camp to rescue four hostages resulting in the death of 270 Palestinians including children and other non-combatants. A further 600 were injured, overwhelming the already shattered health care system.

Israel’s unjustifiable behaviour in Gaza draws some parallels with the last stages of Sri Lanka’s civil war in 2009 when civilians were bombed and shelled in so-called safe zones and denied food, shelter and medical care for many months.

A recent article from Al Jazeera pointed out the parallels between the two situations. “In both cases, the military displaced hundreds of thousands of civilians, instructing them to gather in “safe zones” where they would not be harmed. In both cases, the militaries proceeded to bomb the designated “safe zones,” indiscriminately killing and injuring a large number of civilians. In both cases, the militaries also bombed medical units responsible for saving the lives of the civilians. In both cases, military spokespeople justified the strikes, admitting that they had bombed the safe zones, but claiming that the Tamil Tigers and Hamas were responsible for the civilian deaths since they had hidden among the civilian population, using them as shields. In both cases, Western countries criticised the killing of innocents, but continued supplying the militaries with weapons. In Sri Lanka’s case, Israel was among the main suppliers of weapons. In both cases, the UN claimed that the warring parties were carrying out war crimes and crimes against humanity.”

And except for a few lone voices, the people in both countries were largely silent and did not raise their voices against the slaughter. In Sri Lanka’s case, the absence of UN agencies and other independent witnesses meant it was it happened in the dark.

“The trauma of what happened and shame of that was revealed to us later. To be part in any way of extending this horrendous crime to another people is absolutely foul…The Tamil community has reservations about joining these protests because they ask, ‘when something similar was happening to us, where were you?’ It is a valid feeling,” said Ruwanthie.

Another aspect the activists are fighting against is the impact of Zionism on Sri Lankan society. There are many illegal businesses run by Israelis in the south and the east. While the government has cracked down on Russians operating illegal businesses, it is ignoring the activities of the Israelis. IDF soldiers are using Sri Lanka for rest and recreation while three Chabad Houses in Colombo serve as synagogues. On a recent visit to one of the Chabad Houses member of the Free Palestine Movement, Father Lionel Peiris, said they were told that the Palestinians should be exterminated and the land given to Israel.

“Sri Lankans don’t know that Zionism has slowly crept into Sri Lanka and it is becoming scary. We are tracking this down and spreading awareness in the south and east…Many locals are being brain washed,” said activist Tassy Dahlan, adding that people were given T shirts with messages in Hebrew and posters in Hebrew were pasted in business establishments, which the local people did not understand.

She believed that Sri Lanka should go the route of boycott, divest and sanctions while people could stop buying products and using services associated with Israel.

“We know the businesses are illegal and know they don’t pay taxes and some places don’t hire Sri Lankans. They don’t welcome local people to their establishments…They are set up largely illegally so the revenue doesn’t feed our economy, “ said Ruwanthie.

“In a country that is coming out of its own history of racism and discrimination, we do not need foreigners to come here and create cults and subcultures that in any way promote racism and  exclusivity. People should be protected because we have a tendency to sway towards extremism,” she added.

For Ruwanthie, the crisis in Palestine is a lesson for the world. “What is happening in Palestine is more than a specific atrocity happening to a specific people in a specific place. It is a watershed moment for the entire world.

“The Palestinians need to know they have inspired a wave of human consciousness, courage and generosity across the world like no other country has been able to do. While the physical pain and emotional and psychological trauma is horrible, they can get inspiration is that people gathering in their name. We owe Palestine a debt of gratitude for their courage,” she pointed out.

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