The horror and inhumanity of Israel’s latest military offensive on Gaza, beginning on 8 July, has shocked and outraged people all over the world.
More than 5000 air strikes on the besieged Gaza strip have left more than 2,090 dead; tens of thousands injured and disabled; and more than 100,000 displaced, as of late August.
500 children have been among the unarmed civilians killed as Israeli rockets targeted homes, refugee centres, schools and hospitals.
The western powers have unsurprisingly lined up behind the Zionist state, blaming Hamas for firing rockets and mortars into Israel, which have killed 64 soldiers and 4 civilians including a child and a Thai migrant worker.
“Israel has the right to defend itself”, said the US Senate, as it voted unanimously to increase military aid to Israel in 2015 to US$621 million.
To borrow from Raji Sourani of the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, this argument equates “an occupier and the occupied, the oppressed and the oppressor and ... plays down the Palestinian people’s right to defend themselves”.
The Arab states, in an unspoken pact with Israel, back attempts at smashing Hamas through assassinations, aerial bombardment, and mass arrests. In the grip of despots, solidarity with Palestinians is secondary to safeguarding their own regimes from radical Islamists.
The Gaza strip has been under economic blockade by Israel since Hamas fairly won elections there in 2007. Since then, the people of Gaza are under ‘collective punishment’ for making the ‘wrong’ choice. Liberal and neo-liberal democracy is only supported when it produces the result desired by imperialism and its local allies.
Israel controls all movement of persons and goods into and out of the territory; as the Government of Sri Lanka did in its blockade of the LTTE-controlled northern peninsula. Short of food and medicines, basic consumer goods and building materials, and denied the opportunity to earn their livelihoods outside of Gaza including to fish more than 3km off its coast; Israel seeks the surrender of the people of Gaza by turning them against Hamas.
This strategy has failed; forcing the corrupt and submissive West Bank leadership of Mahmoud Abbas to sign a unity agreement with Hamas earlier this year. The Israeli assault on Gaza is a naked attempt to weaken if not destroy Hamas, which would also benefit the Abbas-led Palestinian Authority.
While Hamas is no friend of the working class and poor peasantry and deeply hostile to the Left, its violence against Israel has to be recognised as a reaction to the strangulation of economic and social life in Gaza; targeted assassinations of its leadership; the detention of hundreds of Hamas members and supporters in Israeli prisons; and the failure of international diplomacy and constitutional politics.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to build its ‘wall’ in the occupied West Bank, stealing Palestinian farmland and water resources, destroying homes and communities and creating Palestinian reservations as the US did with Native Americans and Apartheid South Africa did with Africans. The colonisation of Palestinian lands by Jewish settlers becomes the justification for militarisation and occupation by Israeli armed forces.
Government of Sri Lanka
What has the response of the government of the recipient of the ‘Star of Palestine’ award, and patron of the Sri Lanka Committee for Solidarity with Palestine, been?
An official statement piously said: “We are convinced that dialogue remains the only viable option that can effectively address the issues confronting the region and reaffirm our commitment to a peaceful solution.” Good advice for the Middle East but not apparently for Sri Lanka!
President Rajapakse recently announced the gift of US$1 million to the Palestinian Authority as humanitarian assistance. Likewise the European Union, who do nothing now to stop Israel from levelling Gaza into the ground, promise to give loans and grants once this round of conflict ends; rebuilding tomorrow what Israel has destroyed and will destroy again.
As a mark of protest, the principled approach would have been at the very least, to recall the Sri Lankan ambassador in Tel Aviv. But of course the Rajapakse government can do nothing more.
The close military ties that JR Jayewardene’s government established with Israel have deepened under this regime. Israel has been an important source of arms and equipment to the Sri Lankan armed forces during its military campaigns including in its final phase.
Israel has become a favoured non-traditional destination for Sri Lankan migrant workers. At least 7,000 of whom, mainly women, are contracted as care-givers to the elderly and the disabled and unofficially as domestic servants within the household. Men are employed largely as farm labour in harsh and exploitative working conditions without legal rights and protection of Israeli nationals.
In fact, there is a powerful pro-Israel lobby within the defence establishment led by Gotabaya Rajapakse; and within the political establishment led by Champika Ranawake. The admiration and support for a rogue state that officially practises ethnic cleansing, military occupation, and racist treatment of Arabs, is echoed in Bodu Bala Sena leader Galagodaatte Gnanassara’s threat to act like Israel, if Muslims in Sri Lanka challenge his movement.
Both Sinhala and Tamil nationalists have sympathised with Israel and not Palestine. Each identifies itself with Zionist ideology: believing themselves to be ‘chosen people’, inhabiting their traditional homeland, and encircled by hostile and alien forces. Both nationalisms have also been influenced by the global wave of Islamo-phobia, which each has connected with historical inter-ethnic conflicts and tensions with local Muslims.
Public action and protest against the Israeli bombardment has been disappointing. The official Committee for Solidarity with Palestine met with its patron, and organised a media conference of political party representatives on 22 July.
The Islamist Thowheed Jamath organisation organised a demonstration on 13 August, which the police tried to ban to prevent clashes with the Bodu Bala Sena’s rival protest. The limits of the Thowheed Jamath is reflected in its disinterest in mobilising outside of the Muslim community and in fact, its own supporters, for the protest. However, its courage in challenging the court order and holding its protest in Maligawatte should be recognised.
However, the first public protest in solidarity with the people of Gaza was organised on the initiative of several Left organisations, including the Nava Sama Samaja Party and Frontline Socialist Party on 31 July in front of Fort Railway Station. Its numbers were small and confined to its own circle of activists.
Solidarity with the Palestinian struggle in Sri Lanka has to break free from all three methods above: that is, elite politics; communal mobilisation of Muslims; and self-activity of Left radicals.
The global Boycott-Divestment-Sanctions (‘BDS’) campaign should be taken up as the strategy for supporting the Palestinian resistance.
As its name indicates, the objective of the campaign is to treat Israel as the pariah state that it is, by boycotting Israeli goods and services; by removing investments in Israeli companies; and by using economic and other sanctions to isolate Israel.
Only a movement that mobilises large sections of society, cutting across ethnic and religious identities, will have the social and political weight to resist Israel and its imperialist allies, starting within Sri Lanka itself.
Stop the Bombing! Reopen the borders! Rebuild Gaza under democratic control of its people! Indict and Convict the Israeli war criminals!
Colombo -- 23 August 2014. Published in Sinhala in Vame Handa ('Left Voice'), Vol. 1, No. 3 (September 2014)