The fantasy of the colonist defence — Part 2

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

6 mins read
Palestinians are seen at a temporary shelter in the southern Gaza Strip city of Khan Younis, Dec. 13, 2023. (Photo by Rizek Abdeljawad/Xinhua)

Click here to read Part 01 of this series

Faced with a growing body of evidence of mass killings of civilians, the Lankan and the Israeli governments, as mentioned have fallen back on demonising the colonised . Professor Tony Taylor has discussed this historical and political trend in the discussion of the Armenian Genocide, the denial of the methodical killing of the Jews in Europe by the Nazis and their collaborators (6 million died out of out of 9 million in the occupied territories), the stubborn denial of successive Japanese governments of the Japanese role in the massacres of indigenous populations  in China and Korea, the denial of atrocities committed by Stalinists in the USSR, Serbian and Croatian atrocities during the breakup of Yugoslavia, and a reluctance by Australians (only now changing) to acknowledge the massacres of Aboriginal people by colonial occupiers.[i]

Historical deniers, according to Professor Taylor, display the following behaviours: an acquiescence to authority and leaders, hostility towards ‘others’ who are usually defenceless and hence an easy target, a simplistic analysis of complex circumstances, antagonism to ideas beyond their frame of reference, belief in the purity of their beliefs and in the evil of the others, and a belief that their own group is superior to other groups.[ii] These characteristics are very evident in the Israeli attitude to Palestinians and in the treatment of Tamils in Lanka.

Sinhala chauvinists and Zionist zealots alike cling to the unexamined assumption that their armed forces cannot commit atrocities and that their military responses are measured. They point instead to their opponents’ misdeeds. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the then President of Lanka whose government oversaw the massacre of tens of thousands of Tamil civilians, said this at a victory parade two years after the end of the conflict:

I will recall what I said in the past that our troops went into the battlefront carrying a gun on one hand, the Human Rights Charter in the other, food for the innocent displaced on their shoulder, and love of their children in their hearts. They did not target any communities or religions, and did not march ahead with hatred towards anyone.[iii]

Echoes of this can be found in the Israeli response to the evidence of the targeting of civilians in Gaza, the destruction of infrastructure and the blocking of supplies. The current Israeli government is sadly exploiting a great European tragedy – the attempted extermination of Jews by the Nazis and their allies – as justification for its actions.

A cameo of life under occupation

Both the Tamils and the Palestinians are ringed in by a series of institutional, military, and legal constraints that make their lives insufferable compared to their neighbours. this can only be described as apartheid. Apartheid was a system in place in South Africa which was a system of segregation and discrimination on the grounds of race.[iv] Both the Lankan government and the Zionist state bristle at the very suggestion.

The Palestinians are harshly dealt with on every indicator, be it the level of unemployment, restriction of travel, the right of refugees to return to their homes, and allocation of resources and land. Gaza has around 70 per cent youth unemployment. The few lucky enough to work in the ‘promised land’ endure severe economic and military harassment and restrictions. Jonathan Cook contends that is a “slow-motion ethnic cleansing”. It is one of the ways that the political realisation of Greater Israel, a homeland for Jews only, is being implemented.[v]

Another instrument of the Zionist apartheid state is the Right of Return. Within two years of the Zionist state being proclaimed in the Knesset, ‘The Law of Return’ was established, a law which allows all Jews around the world to migrate to Israel and automatically become citizens. Two years later, in 1952, the Knesset passed the Citizenship Law, which effectively bars any Palestinian not living in Israel from returning and claiming their former land and house back from the colonisers. This directly effects the 750,000 Palestinian refugees who were ethnically cleansed in first Arab-Israeli war of 1948, and known to Palestinians as the Nakba (catastrophe). A Palestinian who want to marry another Palestinian living in land expropriated during the 1967 war, but in Israel, is barred from marrying. There are also barriers to intermarriage. Echoing the laws of miscegenation that were still in place in many of the states in the US till the 1960s and was one of the pillars of apartheid South Africa.

In the distribution of resources, the division is just as blatant. 93 per cent of the Palestinian community in Israel cling to less 3 per cent of their land, mostly in the built-up areas of their towns and villages. After waves of confiscation by the Zionist state which forcibly expropriated around 70 per cent of their land. This confiscated land and other pieces of land are kept in trust for Jewish settlers and for Jews around the globe, who might want to become citizens. Even Palestinians living in Israel cannot claim back land illegally taken from them. It is done under the aegis of the Absentee Property Law of 1950.

Reinforcing this is the Planning and Building Law of 1965, which confines the vast majority of Palestinians to overcrowded ghettoes like Gaza, while their Jewish neighbours are awarded significant land reserves. Even illegal Jewish settlements on the West Bank have access to lavish state subsidies denied to Palestinians.

Among the member states of the OECD Israel has the highest poverty rate. This is because poverty is largely concentrated in the occupied territories, similar to Bantustans,[vi] where Palestinians are forced to live. Only a fifth of Jewish children live below the poverty line, whilst two thirds of Palestinian children in Israel do.[vii]

The Tamils in the North, a decade and half after the end of the civil war, have had to contend with at least 70,000 Lankan troops (some estimates put the figure at 160,000). That is one soldier for every 12 civilians, together with 15,000 police. Most of these security personnel do not speak Tamil and the occupied do not speak Sinhalese. This suffocating armed presence creates incomprehension, fear, and resentment in the civilian population.

Land and resources are affected. Large permanent army camps take up valuable arable land near towns and villages. The armed forces of the state are involved in large-scale economic development, including market gardens and golf courses, holiday resorts, hotels, farming, restaurants, cafes, and travel agencies on land expropriated from local Tamil farmers. No independent authority determines whether the land can be handed back.

As in Palestine, hundreds of thousands of Tamils were forced to vacate their land because of the civil war, and once the conflict ended many were prevented from returning because these areas were deemed high security zones. Some compensation is offered, usually on land that is arid and devoid of infrastructure, making fishing and farming (the two traditional income earners) difficult.[viii]

There have been many instances of Tamils who have been tortured and detained by the armed forces in Tamil areas since the end of the civil war. These shadowy forces act with impunity and a predatory approach is taken even if the detainee has only tenuous links to the LTTE. These abductions are a tried and true method of retaining control through fear. It is fear which prevents people from testifying against the armed forces. Its aim is also to make life unbearable for Tamils so they will flee the country. Abductions are done in plain sight by coordinated team of security and intelligence personnel. Those abducted are then tortured where all the tools of torture are also on full display – cables, wooden sticks, batons, plastic pipes filled with sand, water barrels. The detainees are whipped, burnt with cigarettes, branded with hot metal rods and suffer other unspeakable acts. In at least half the cases the security forces broker a ransom. Prices range from Rs350,000 to a million rupees. This is another profitable sideline of the armed forces.[ix]

The assault of women in Lanka is distressingly widespread, being most acute in the North and East. There is credible evidence that sexual violence was systematically used against Tamils. Rape was used to intimidate the Tamil population, especially in the immediate aftermath of the war. Human Rights Watch (HRW) concluded that sexualised violence and torture was used to gather information about the LTTE to force others to ‘confess’ and as method of ethnic cleansing. As a result of the war there was in 2017, 90,000 households headed by women, of whom many are widows.[x] These women face many hurdles in getting permanent housing and jobs to support themselves and their families. Some have been forced to resort to prostitution and suffer a lack of physical security. Young women are abducted, raped, and returned to their communities. Many are too terrified to report their rape to the authorities, who are their occupiers. Widows are regularly harassed, raped, or forced to submit to sex. Many of the victims are then forced to endure it all again.[xi]

The third section looks at what happened in the last stages of the Lankan civil war and what the people of Gaza are currently being forced to endure. It starts off by looking at the rarefied arguments the powerful conjure up to keep the oppressed, dispossessed.

To be continued


[i] Taylor, T. (2008). Denial: History Betrayed. Melbourne University Press.

[ii] Ibid., p. xi.

[iii] ‘Second National Day Anniversary Celebrations Honour invaluable Ranaviru Sacrifices.’ Retrieved: http://www.army.lk/news/second-national-victory-day – anniversary-celebration-honour-invaluable-rainvaru-sacrifices.

[iv] Soames, Catherine and Hawker, Sara (eds.) (2008). The Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press, p. 38.

[v]Cook, Jonathan, `Why Israel is an Apartheid State’ in Malloy, Sean. Lorimer, Doug. Cook, Jonathan. Thier, Hadas. Sheppard, Barry. Palestine, Israeli Apartheid and Antisemitism. Resistance Books. 2011, p. 16.

[vi] Land allocated to Blacks during the apartheid era in South Africa.

[vii] Op. cit.: Jonathan Cook, pp. 15 to 35.

[viii] ‘The Long Shadow of War: The Struggle for Justice in Post-War Sri Lanka’. The Oakland Institute. Retrieved: http://www.oaklandinstitute.org/long-shadow-war

[ix] Women under Siege Project. Retrieved: www.womenunder seigeproject.org/conflicts/profile/Sri-lanka

[x] The figure is taken from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade country report: DFAT Country Information Report, Sri Lanka, January 24, 2017, p. 23

[xi] Op. cit.: Women Under Siege Project.

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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