Sri Lanka, Palatines Parallels: What is missing from the discourse — Part 3

Disturbing echoes of the last phase of the civil war in Sri Lanka and the treatment of Palestinians under Zionist Occupation

6 mins read
[Sohaib Al Kharsa/ Unsplash]

In the Manichean universe of the Zionists and the Lankan state their actions are beyond reproach, but the actions of the oppressed are unjust and immoral. They make no allowance for the historical reasons for resistance. Violence by the oppressed is not new. The First Nations of Australia resisted the colonisers from 1788 to just before the Second World War; there were indigenous rebellions in many parts of what is now South America and in the United States, including the Nat Turner revolt by enslaved African Americans; there was the Mau Mau rebellion in the British colony of Kenya. There were many others less well known. What they share is resistance to a better armed and resourced enemy. Armed resistance follows a period where the possibilities of negotiation are narrowed until they are non-existent and violence seems for some the only other choice.

The Israeli and Lankan states have been extraordinarily successful in deflecting attention from the causes of revolt by denouncing as terrorists those seeking their rights, and using this as an excuse for military repression and discrimination. In this they are aided by many in the mainstream media who use the colonisers’ talking points and attempt to deflect legitimate inquiries. At the same time, it must be acknowledged that many journalists have lost their lives attempting to tell the truth. Meanwhile the local media is choked with government propaganda. The colonising governments have powerful international backers who provide arms, money, and political capital. On the Israeli side are the United States, the European Union and Britain. On the Lankan side are China, India, Russia, Israel. The United States also gave limited support.

The government of post-independence Lanka is deaf to the demands of the Tamil community when it comes to parity of language, the allocation of resources and jobs and the recognition that Lanka is a multi-cultural society, as evidenced by the 1972 and the subsequent 1977 Constitutions and the latter’s plethora of amendments which stated that Lanka is a Sinhala Buddhist state. Dissent, whether in the form of protests or peaceful non-cooperation was met by the might of the state and anger of the majority community. Countless hundreds lost their lives and houses in the riots. The more notable ones occurred in 1958 and 1977. In 1983 an army patrol was ambushed by the LTTE, with the army retaliating by killing unarmed civilians. It resulted in a pogrom in the capital city Colombo, in which many rioters were brought in government vans and their leaders were provided with lists of Tamil names and houses. Thousands of   homes were looted and burnt; many of the women were raped and around 3,000 killed, while the police looked on. The government did not express any sympathy, but directly blamed the Tamils[i] for the pogrom. It disenfranchised Tamil parliamentary representatives and passed a law giving the Lankan government the right to do what they pleased with properties affected by the pogrom. The result was not hard to predict. An exodus of 150,000 refugees flooded the North, the East and India, passing into the willing arms of the LTTE. By the 1984 the civil war was transformed from a low-level intermittent conflict into a full blown one.[ii]

As the towns and countryside controlled by the LTTE fell under the overwhelming firepower and the 160 thousand troops of the Lankan state, defeat loomed. Facing them were the remnants of the LTTE and 300,000 unarmed civilians. The Lankan army could have sent their small well trained mobile units to destroy the LTTE as they had no means of escape, being trapped on an isthmus. Instead, the Lankan army, navy and air force used overwhelming fire power on an area that at the start of the siege was maybe eight square kilometres and at the end around one kilometre. The area in the end contained probably a quarter of a million defenceless civilians. The initial UN figures of 40,000 killed is now seen as overly conservative, with figures of 80,000 to 100,000 being more likely.

The wounded were left to die because it was too dangerous to rescue them, and if rescued they received treatment that was at best rudimentary. Hardly any drugs and anaesthetics were available, and in the end hospital staff asked the UN and the Red Cross not to give out their coordinates for fear it would attract more shellfire. The survivors were hungry, thirsty, sleep-deprived, terrified, and their will to live deserted them; how many died of hunger and lack of water can only be guessed at.

Many wanted to escape this charnel house but were terrified into staying. Even if they could successfully navigate the mines lain across the borders of their prison, they were at risk of being shot at by the Lankan forces, and if taken they would face a fraught future in an internment camp. That is why so many Tamil civilians remained.[iii]

 Gaza is an artificial construct of the Zionist state, an area of 365 sq kilometres in which over two million human beings are squashed in like sardines. It has one of the highest population densities in the world. More than 70 per cent of the population are refugees or descendants of refugees. Half the population is under the age of 18. It has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. Before the current bombardment, it had an overall unemployment of around 46 per cent, with a 70 percent unemployed rate for young people. It nevertheless has, like Lanka, a high literacy rate. The inhabitants are virtually caged between the Zionist forces and the Egyptian ones. This blockade is enforced by land, sea and air and severely curtails ordinary commerce as there is a blockade on many goods and services that could make their lot tolerable. This blockade is also human as it prevents many Gazans from being gainfully employed beyond their cage.

There have been restrictions or a ban on many items necessary for living a tolerable life.[iv] These include building materials, light bulbs, candles, matches, books, refrigerators, shoes, clothing, sheets and blankets. Food items include tea, coffee, sausages, flour, meat and pasta. Other items include cigarettes, fuel, pencils and pens. The only entrance is in Rafah, which is intermittently closed.[v]

These policies have resulted in most of the population of Gaza being dependent on humanitarian aid and the whims of the Israeli government. They put up with restricted access to food and water, difficulties in ensuring their children get to school safely and even in burying a loved one. Now there is widespread infrastructure devastation, together with the contamination of water and soil brought on by the continual siege and repeated air strikes.[vi]

Professor Sara Roy, a knowledgeable and sympathetic observer, remarked on one of her visits to Gaza that here ‘is a land ripped apart and scarred, the lives of it people blighted. Gaza is decaying under the weight of continued devastation unable to function normally ………….’ Professor Roy concludes that the decline and disablement of Gaza’s economy and society have been deliberate, ‘the result of state policy – consciously planned, implemented, and enforced …. And just as Gaza’s demise has been consciously orchestrated, so have obstacles preventing its recovery’.[vii]

Since the elections of 2007, Gaza has been controlled by Hamas, defined by Israel and its allies as a terrorist organisation. Periodically Hamas have attempted to break the siege. They have done this futilely and ineffectually by raining rockets on the occupiers. Since 2007 Gaza has suffered three major Israeli assaults which have killed more than 3,500 Palestinians, as well as a decade and half of economic blockade and military siege.[viii]

Post October 7 things have become worse. It is estimated by US intelligence sources as reported to CNN that around 40 to 45 per cent of the 29,000 bombs dropped on a defenceless civilian population are “dumb bombs”. Countless of these undirected bombs are behemoths – 2,000-pound bombs. Even places that could be deemed civilian shelters and no-go areas are not immune. Hospitals, homes, UN compounds, ambulance, mosques, a church, and a university have been targets. Like the Lankan government, the Israeli government claims to be rooting out terrorists in a measured way.

The last section attempts to humanise the oppressed from the terrorist narrative impose on them by their oppressors. The paper ends with challenging the world powers be they be: India, China, United States, EU, Russia, and Britain to not give a free pass to their geopolitical allies. In this case, the Zionist state, or the Lankan state.

To be continued

3 March 2024

[i] The government of the day also blamed erroneously blamed left-wing parties like the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) – Peoples Liberation front.

[ii] Op. cit.: Cooke, Michael, pp.235 to 294.

[iii] Cooke, Michael, ‘War Crimes in Sri Lanka Stain or Slander?’  Groundviews, 16/9/2018.

[iv] It should also be noted that a similar ban was in place in the north of Lanka. Before 2002 nearly 70 items were banned from being taken into a the Wanni district. This was relaxed during the Norwegian facilitated ceasefire. See:

[v] Eid, Professor Haidar, ‘Israel’s policies in Gaza are genocidal,’ Mondoweiss, August 2018. Retrieved:

[vi] Roy, Professor Sara, ‘The Long War on Gaza,’ New York Review of Books, December 19, 2023. Retrieved:–on-gaza/ 

[vii] Op. cit.: Eid, ‘Israel’s policies in Gaza are genocidal’.

[viii] Meshaal, Khaled, ‘Hamas accepts Palestinian state with 1967 borders’ in Al Jazeera, May 2017. Retrieved: s-palestinian-state-with-1967-borders.   

Michael Colin Cooke

Michael Colin Cooke is a retired public servant and trade union activist who has a lifelong interest in South Asian history, politics and culture. He has served as an election monitor in Sri Lanka. He has also penned when the occasion demanded a number of articles and film reviews.

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