The Electronic Intifada Toronto 30 July 2013
Towards the end of 2008, I joined thousands in Toronto to protest Israel’s attack on Gaza. Like people all over the world, we called for an immediate end to the war. At York University, where I was a student, we mobilized the campus to defend Palestinian rights.
A few months later, bombs were falling on my own people — in the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka. And once again, we hit Toronto’s streets in protest.
I realized then that even though our homelands are oceans apart, Palestinians and Tamils have much in common.
Through the “war on terror,” the Israeli and Sri Lankan armies have waged war on civilian populations.
The Rome-based Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal has commissioned an independent report that finds the Sri Lankan state guilty of bombing hospitals, humanitarian operations and even government-declared “safe zones,” in clear violation of international humanitarian law (“Preliminary report,” January 2010 [PDF]).
A United Nations report estimates that from January to May 2009, between 40,000 and 75,000 persons were killed (“Report of the secretary-general’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka,” 31 March 2011).
The Sri Lankan government’s own statistical data reveal that almost 147,000 persons remain unaccounted for: no one knows if they are held in prison, injured, or dead (“146,679 Vanni people missing within a year of war: Bishop of Mannaar,” TamilNet, 12 January 2011).
Major arms supplier
But there are more direct connections.
Israel has been a major arms supplier to Sri Lanka’s government, as well as providing it with strategic military advice. With permission from the United States, Israel has sold Sri Lanka consignments of Kfir jets and drones.
Israel has also supplied the Dvora patrol boats to Sri Lanka, which have been used extensively against Tamils (“Sri Lanka learns to counter Sea Tigers’ swarm tactics,” Jane’s Navy International, March 2009 [PDF]).
And Israel has also provided training to the Special Task Force, a brutal commando unit in the Sri Lanka police.
The similarities don’t end there. Both Palestinians and Tamils have been subjected to a process of settler-based colonialism.
In the 1980s, Israel offered advice to Sri Lanka as it built Sinhala-only armed settlements in the eastern province, which aimed to create buffer zones around Tamil-majority populations (the Sinhalese are the ethnic majority of Sri Lanka) (“Sinhala academic blames US-UK axis for genocide in Tamil homeland,” TamilNet, 15 April 2012).
The strategy employed was the same as Israel’s in the West Bank: to destroy the local population’s claim to national existence and render invalid any political solution based on popular sovereignty.
Just like in Palestine, land seizures and settlement programs in Sri Lanka are fragmenting the Tamil people’s national and social coherence throughout their historic homeland in the north and east of the island. As exiled journalist and human rights worker Nirmanusan Balasundaram wrote earlier this year, the effect is to undermine any possibility of creating a contiguous national homeland (“Sri Lanka: The intentions behind the land-grabbing process,” Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka, 30 April 2013).
Within the occupied West Bank, this process takes place against the backdrop of “dialogue,” which more and more Palestinians see as a sham as Israeli settlements spread across their land. After the 2009 war, the Sri Lankan government used the rhetoric of “reconstruction” and “redevelopment” to obscure its process of rapid colonization.
For Tamils, “post-war development” has become another form of counter-insurgency warfare, whereby Sinhala settlements, state-led militarization and the open gerrymandering of constituencies all threaten the Tamils’ historic relationship to their homeland.
The Palestinian experience — in particular, the Oslo accords signed by Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1993 — has been instructive for Tamils.
An international agreement with India foresees Sri Lanka holding elections this September for a Northern Provincial Council, supposedly another gesture of reconciliation. The US is backing the election, despite serious reservations within Tamil civil society and the diaspora.
The council, if elected, would provide Tamils with only the perception of self-determination — similar to the experience of the Palestinian Authority — while the military occupation continues to dominate every aspect of civilian life. The council’s powers would remain under the control of the Sinhalese-dominated government in Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, and its governor would be a direct appointment of the Sri Lankan president (see “Much ado about nothing,” Colombo Telegraph, 21 April 2013).
Regardless of the façade of self-government, the crime of apartheid remains a fact of life for Tamils in Sri Lanka, as it does for Palestinians under Israeli rule.
Sri Lanka’s treatment of the Tamils in the north and east of the island meets the definition of apartheid contained in the 1973 International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid.
Apartheid involves the domination of one racial or ethnic group over another. The convention is not restricted to the particular manifestation of apartheid in South Africa or to majorities being oppressed by minorities. Instead, it condemns practices that resemble apartheid — of which there is more than one version.
Without a doubt, there are critical differences between the oppression faced by Palestinians and the oppression faced by Tamils (and by black South Africans, for that matter). Nevertheless, both Israel and Sri Lanka are characterized by discrimination, repression and territorial fragmentation through stolen land.
The unitary Sri Lankan state structure constitutionally places all power of the state exclusively in the hands of the Sinhalese people, while denying Tamils equal access to education, their own language, their land, and self-determination.
In light of this common experience, the Palestinian and Tamil peoples are enduring a slow — but relentless — genocide. The massacres in Gaza and the Vanni were carried out to kill civilians, cause serious bodily and mental harm, and impose conditions of life that produce partial and gradual physical destruction — all with little meaningful opposition from global capitals. Both can be considered cases of genocide, as it is defined by the United Nations.
In the case of Sri Lanka, as long as it uses the language of “reconciliation,” it will continue to pursue the same strategy and enjoy praise from major powers.
But the realization of our peoples’ aspirations does not depend on the whims of foreign governments. It rests with the Tamil people — as the aspirations for a liberated Palestine rest with the Palestinians — and the support of a mobilized and engaged international solidarity movement. By supporting each other’s struggles, and by learning from each other’s histories, we can get one step closer to a more just world.
For both Palestinians and Tamils, the attacks of 2008 and 2009 were part of a broader history of dispossession, occupation and genocide. Our people have a lot in common in the struggle for peace and justice. In fact, our oppressors appear to have lots in common too.
Krisna Saravanamuttu is an activist based in Toronto, Canada. He is a member of the steering committee of the Canadian Peace Alliance, and is the spokesperson of the National Council of Canadian Tamils. Follow him on Twitter: @KrisnaS85.
- Sri Lanka
- York University
- Operation Cast Lead
- Israeli settlements
Palestinians are genuinely
Permalink max logan replied on
Palestinians are genuinely being suppressed while the Tamil Tigers were a blood thirsty killing machine. They deserved such a brutal and abrupt end to its very existence. They got what they always wanted, martyrdom.
Yes Only Few know the truth
Permalink Shehan replied on
This article writer tries to similarise entirely 2 different struggles. In Sri Lanka we also support Paletinian cause. current president is a long time friend of the Plaestiian people and Sri Lank have on nemwrous occasions worked against Israel and even closed Ties (Even when some Arab countries keep Embassies) But had to sometimes deal with Israel sonce many western countries didnt provide arms to Fight or even defend Terrorism just because they felt there is no major benefit for them in Lanka's situation and influence from India. While we are thankful for the help extended by Israel, we still dont accept their deeds and know they are sort of invaders. In Srilanka LTTE was the culprit and the invader and terrorist. Just confused what this writer standing on his head?
What we sacrificed for the peace.
Permalink Tont replied on
Tamil author writing about what tamil facing today . But he forgot about few important stories .
2008 "A few months later, bombs were falling on my own people — in the Vanni region of northern Sri Lanka. And once again, we hit Toronto’s streets in protest" , "Through the “war on terror,” the Israeli and Sri Lankan armies have waged war on civilian populations."
What about ,Tamil tiger attacks on sinhala civilians ? is that ok you to kill ours but when we do that it's bad (of cause it's bad and both sides are wrong but sinhalese won the war and as a tamil you feel sad about that)
Tamil tiger attacks on sinhala civilians - (you talk about 2008-2009 i'm gonna talk only about those 2 years because comment section isn't enough to write about 30 years)
Buttala passenger bus bombing - killed 27 civilians
Weliveriya bombing - killed 14 people at an opening ceremony for a marathon.
Piliyandala bus bombing - Killed 24 people .
Dehiwala train bombing - killed 8 school childrens.
Nipon Hotel attack - killed 4 people.
Dambulla bombing - on passenger bus killed 20 people.
Fort Railway Station bombing - Killed seven school children of the baseball team of D. S. Senanayake College and their coach.
Mount Lavinia bomb - 18 people including seven women and an 8-month-old infant.
Moratuwa bus bombing - killed 23 people .
Polgolla bus bombing - killed 2 people.
Anuradhapura political rally bombong - killed 21 people.
Suicide air raid on Colombo - 2 civilians.
Kirimetiya - 10 unarmed civilians shot to death.
Akuressa suicide bombing - killed 14 people.
Mahagodayaya massacre - 9 people were killed including 2 children .
Here i did not listed police or military deaths , from 11 June 1990 774 unarmed police officers killed to 2009 Tamil tigers killed thousands of our people and way you write you want us to go quietly into our graves without a fight ?
We now have peace (doesn't matter what you call it) i know its Hard to Digest.
And what about the wholesale
Permalink Reddy replied on
And what about the wholesale mass slaughter of the Tamil population by the Sri Lankan Army ? Two wrongs dont make a right. The Tamil diaspora has always been oppressed, especially after Sri Lankan independence from our common colonial masters.
Do you have a list of all those killed my Sri Lankan forces ? Didnt think so. You should look up the BBC tapes and the horrendous atrocities committed by Sri Lankan armed forces, including rape, torture and cold-blooded murder of children. Absolutely no different from Tamil extremists.
The Tamil population suffers the wrath of the Sri Lankan despite never fully supporting the Tamil tigers. You know this but choose to ignore it. Sri Lanka should be buried in sanctions until the oppressors are tried by a War Crimes tribunal.
Permalink Sara replied on
How does the wholesale eviction of Muslims from Sri Lanka's northern province and the mass killings of Muslims in its eastern province, both by the LTTE in the name of Tamil Eelam, fit into this analysis of parallels? Who constitutes "Tamil" here? How do Sri Lankan Muslims, including Tamil-speaking Sri Lankan Muslims, negotiate these parallels with Palestine?
The impulse towards solidarity is necessary and welcome, but this analysis lacks granularity. It glosses over critical justice issues that activists and survivors in SL are grappling with right now.
Indeed the plight of the
Permalink Raashid Riza replied on
Indeed the plight of the Tamil people is very dismal and the increasing military ties between Israel and Sri Lanka are ominous. But to compare the plight of Palestinians to that of Lankan Tamils is inaccurate, an exaggeration and an attempt to justify the atrocities of the LTTE. The Palestinians were deprived of their homeland by Israel, Sri Lanka is a sovereign state not built on land stolen from the Tamils. Issues to do with wrong doings of the Lankan state is a different matter, but Lankan Tamils are not Palestinians.
Permalink Shehan replied on
Riza, You should have been a News Editor.
Permalink Peter Fernando replied on
Communities and states are political entities organised by politicians to exert power to control the population . Tamils,Palestinians,English etc believe they do not have a state. England has no parliament. Most British prime ministers are of scottish origin andthe queen has both German and scottish ancestory ,not English. However, there are very few English claiming they wish to be self governing. Any discrimination in England is frowned upon. As a foreigner who came to England I was surprised how ordinary people recognised my right to be treated fairly. I remember as a 17 year old being queue jumped by an englishman. The whole queue and the cashier protested that I,a foreigner, was queue jumped and the queue jumper was told by others to get behind me. This has happened throughout my 38 years in England. Can a Tamil prosper in Sri Lanka? Can a palestinian prosper in Israel? I think we all know the answer. Can Tamil become prime minister of Sri Lanka? Can a mixed race Sri Lankan become president?
It would be nice to think so. Gradual change to think that communities states countries should be run on wider grounds than race may result in a fairer society where Genocide will be dealt as just another crime perpetrated by the odd few who will be brought to justice rather than by politicians who do it because they believe they have a mandate!
Genocide still exists whether the victim fights back or not
Permalink Amanda L replied on
Wow, the dissembling character of these comments is unbelievable, and clearly shows the poverty of liberal politics in the North. Do 40-75,000 people need to have been a perfect liberal 'victim' before we start to care that the rest of the Tamil population is slowly being destroyed? Sara, is the plight of Muslim-speaking Tamils that much better under Rajapaksa, or are you suggesting that it might be once the Tamil genocide is complete? Deconstructing the victim doesn't mitigate the war crime. Tont's comments simply underscore the parallels between the genocidal state in Israel and in Sri Lanka; are you saying that the 2009 end game and ongoing terror campaign settles the math in this civil war? How much is a single Tamil life worth, according to your calculus? Peter, last week the Tory government sent around "Go home or be deported" vans through neighbourhoods in London with high immigrant populations; this is the same racist, war-mongering government that sets off outward migration towards Europe with its meddling in the global South (including Sri Lanka). The English are not victims. But in the end, what is the punchline of these comments? Do nothing. Allow the land grabs and ethnic cleansing to continue. Blame the victim. Maybe your countries will benefit from peace on these terms, but I'd like to hold my own (and yes - which was complicit during the war) to account.
Great article! specially with
Permalink Thushi replied on
Great article! specially with references.
Tamil-Muslim Solidarity in Sri Lanka
Permalink sara replied on
That the Sri Lankan state is engaged in a campaign of ethnic chauvinism and internal colonisation, and that it has in the past and now attacked Muslims doesn't mean Muslims were not also subject to violence by the Tigers in the name of Tamil liberation. This statement is hardly controversial, certainly not amongst Tamils, Sinhalese, and Muslim communities in Sri Lanka itself.
Muslims evicted from Jaffna because they weren't considered Tamil enough are to this day living in refugee camps in Puttalam. Muslims in the East who joined or supported the Tigers are living to this day with having lost hundreds of relatives and neighbours to being shot en-masse by the Tigers in Kathankudy. To acknowledge their presence and their deaths isn't to dismiss anti-Tamil violence. Their existence is simply fact. Ignoring them has not helped bring peace to Sri Lanka. How could it?
Sri Lankan Muslims have a specific tie to Palestine that this article does not address, because to even admit the presence of Sri Lankan Muslims to a largely Western non-Sri Lankan audience would complicate the narrative set out here.
But complication is a good thing. Historical accuracy is the opposite of liberalism. It's a reminder that a framing of solidarity that hides internal complexity will alienate the people it's supposed to be speaking to/for. This is ethically and strategically suspect.
Your implication that Sri Lankan Muslims think they would benefit from an anti-Tamil genocide is racist. You don't seem to know about how many Muslims do support Tamil emancipation. Like I said, even the Tigers had Muslim supporters. Your statement undermines the historically-grounded work cross-community work are people doing right now. It shows how much work there remains to do.
@sara > "To acknowledge their
Permalink Amanda L replied on
@sara > "To acknowledge their presence and their deaths isn't to dismiss anti-Tamil violence" - exactly so. I agree that the conflict is complex. But I've been in two meetings now where the suggestion that the SL government and its western backers/whitewashers need to be held account for the ongoing persecution and displacement of Tamils has been to all appearances shot down using the argument that the LTTE also attacked and marginalized Muslims living in (and struggling with) LTTE-controlled areas. As though defending the right to exist of one group (including the right to self-determination) already excludes that of the other. THAT is a liberal argument and one that the liberal establishment (including the UN and large NGOs) have been wielding to undermine the call for laying charges of genocide against Rajapaksa and his backers. The framing of solidarity needs to bring out the contradictions of the war but not at the expense of condemning the state and its continuing campaign.