What it means to advocate the ‘Sri Lanka model’ for Israel/Palestine

on 14 Comments

It is easy to frame the conflict in Israel and Palestine as inherently unique. In many ways it is – decades-old occupation, US-supported racial discrimination and failure of Western journalism to hold the powerful to account – but other struggles have eerie similarities.

This year Sri Lanka militarily defeated the Tamil Tigers, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). It was a brutal war, killed close to 100,000 people over a three-decade period and resulted in a humanitarian crisis of around 300,000 displaced Tamils. Both sides committed war crimes but the regime in Colombo was accused of shelling hospitals and civilian areas in the closing months of the war. My partner’s father was under the bombs in the north-east of the country and he tells of aerial bombardment on make-shift medical centers. It was hell on earth. Up to 50,000 Tamils were murdered.

The Elders, including Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, condemned the atrocities and were predictably smeared by the government.

Sri Lanka was an early adopter of George W. Bush’s “war on terror” architecture and placed its struggle against the Tamil insurgency as a noble war against ruthless killers. Colombo received arms and backing from India, China, Israel and unleashed overwhelming miliary firepower against the LTTE. The result was unsurprising, though the EU and Washington condemned the brutal tactics employed.

But this feigned Western concern for Tamil human rights must be seen in the context of political influence. Analyst Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe writes in The Diplomat that the, “conflict also shed light on a bitter geopolitical struggle taking place against the backdrop of the declining influence of the West and the emerging influence of India and China”.

Enter Zionism.

In early December the Jerusalem Post published an article that advocated Israel follow the lead of Sri Lanka to eradicate its “terrorism” problem:

“The Tamil Tigers , sometimes referred to by its full name, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), resembled Middle East terror groups. Actually, it is more correct to say that Middle East terror groups resemble the Tamil Tigers, as the Tigers introduced many of the techniques subsequently used by Israel’s enemies. They invented the suicide belt and perfected the suicide bombing attack, turning it into a tactical device. They were the first to use women and children in these attacks. And they have been accused of using their own innocent civilians as human shields. They are a vicious crowd, and were implicated in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi of India in 1991. As we all know, the Palestinians have imitated these tactics with devastating brutality.

“The Sri Lankans had more or less lived with this horror since 1983. Then 9/11 happened and a new dynamic, promoted by president George W. Bush and the United States, gave the Sri Lankans a new outlook. With a new administration elected on the promise of stopping the LTTE permanently, the country embarked on a full-scale military assault. It sent its army, much stronger than the Tamil tigers, into Tamil-occupied territory and began to take back town by town, going street to street in some cases, and killing anyone who resisted.

“Jehan Perera of the Sri Lankan Peace Council said, ‘This government has taken the position that virtually any price is worth paying to rid the country of terrorism.’

“The price paid was indeed a heavy one. Many innocent people died. The Sri Lankan government deeply regrets the killing of innocent civilians, but most government officials believe they made a conscious choice to pay that price, and that the alternative status quo was simply no longer acceptable.”

The writer goes on to explain that Israel should cease “political correctness” and destroy the Palestinians once and for all:

“The time has come to admit that there might not be a solution to the Palestinian problem, but there is a way to end it. The next time terror forces Israel to take military action, this option should be considered. Israel must realize that there will be no peace with an intransigent enemy that refuses to act in good faith. Palestinian rejectionism and Iranian-backed Hizbullah threats to our existence will never be placated; they will not stop until Israel is destroyed. Once the population realizes this unfortunate reality, there is only one way to change it. Israel must take the Sri Lankan initiative and move into these areas one by one, cornering, enveloping and killing off all armed resistance.

“Bending over backward to make peace with the Palestinians has proven fruitless. It’s time to make the choice of a better life for all. More than 60 years of living with this is enough. When we have completely wiped out this enemy, a new dynamic will rise. Without the Muslim thugs holding their own people back, there will be nothing to stop them from negotiating genuine peace. There might be a Palestinian, a Lebanese, a Syrian, maybe even an Iranian peace partner which will transform the Middle East from a charnel house of hatred and bloodshed to a prosperous community of nations working together to make the daily lives of all their citizens better.”

This neo-conservative worldview dictates advocating genocide in the deluded hope that Arabs will feel so defeated that they simply accept Israeli rule. It’s a position also shared by Daniel Pipes:

“The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

A closer examination of Sri Lanka’s methods reveals a disregard for civilian casualties far greater than the IDF crimes during the 2008/2009 Gaza war. There are serious allegations of Tamil Tigers surrendering under a white flag and being mowed down by soldiers. A forthcoming “People’s Permanent Tribunal” meeting in Dublin will investigate a range of alleged crimes during the conflict and feature testimony from eyewitnesses, the UN and EU.

Colombo’s clear policy during the war was a masterful exercise in avoidance and remarkably similar to Israel’s tactics during the Gaza onslaught. Journalists, most human rights workers and independent observers were barred from the combat zone. Any criticism of Sri Lanka’s behaviour was labelled as supporting “terrorism.”

When the roughly 300,000 Tamils were interned in concentration camps after the war and held against their will – most were conditionally released last week though with restricted freedom of movement and ongoing monitoring of their lives – new friends Iran and China remained silent, while South Africa praised the Sri Lanka’s supposed commitment to human rights.

Even Washington, in a just released a report, urges a more conciliatory approach. “US policy towards Sri Lanka cannot be dominated by a single agenda”, it reads. “It is not effective at delivering real reform, and it short-changes US geo-strategic interests in the region”.

Less than six months after the end of the conflict, the London Times reported this week that a re-branded insurgency is brewing (assuming, of course, this isn’t a black ops story planted by the government):

“A Marxist group of Tamil militants with connections to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Cuba is preparing to mount a new insurgency in Sri Lanka six months after the Government declared an end to the 26-year-old war there.

“The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) was founded in eastern Sri Lanka four months ago and has vowed to launch attacks against government and military targets unless its demands for a separate Tamil homeland are met.

“’This war isn’t over yet,’ Commander Kones, head of the PLA’s Eastern District military command, told The Times during a night meeting in a safe house in the east of the country last week.

“’There has been no solution for Tamils since the destruction of the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] in May. So we have built and organised the PLA and are ready to act soon. Our aim is a democratic socialist liberation of the northeast for a Tamil Eelam [the desired Tamil state].’”

A disenfranchised people will continue to strive for independence and self-determination. The Tamils have been wishing for a homeland for decades due to the government’s ongoing discrimination against them. The Palestinians have also been denied natural justice since 1947.

Advocating the Sri Lanka model as an effective way of fighting terrorism is an attractive prospect for those who believe in obliterating the concepts of human rights and proportionality in international law. Israel is unwilling to negotiate in good faith with her opponents, guaranteeing ongoing resistance. The Tamils have fewer global friends but their struggle is just as necessary.

Sri Lanka, like Israel, should be shunned until it acknowledges the rights of its minority to equal rights before the law.

Antony Loewenstein is a Sydney based journalist and author of My Israel Question and The Blogging Revolution. He is on the advisory council of the UK-based Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.

14 Responses

  1. potsherd
    December 9, 2009, 11:35 am

    Isn’t it interesting that the people who say critics of Israel should be looking instead at Darfur and the Sudan don’t seem to so often mention Sri Lanka. Or Brazil, where it’s the “war on drugs” instead of the “war on terror”. link to rawstory.com

  2. David
    December 9, 2009, 12:00 pm

    Can I just say how much I appreciate Antony Loewenstein’s coverage of the atrocities in Sri Lanka and the comparisons between what the “war on terror” looks like on the ground there and in Palestine/Israel?

    One thing I’d add, though, or rather something left out that I’d like to see included:
    “Colombo received arms and backing from India, China, Israel”…and the United States

    We provided Sri Lanka $590,000 in military aid in FY2009 and $1,600,000 (more than doubled) in military aid in FY2010. (This is directly from the State Department, link to state.gov, pg. 91-93).

    $1.6 million is small change compared to $3billion (or to the $1 billion that we give Egypt, who is now going to build an “iron wall” on the Gaza border according to recent Ha’aretz article), but it’s a whole hell of a lot of weapons for a country the size of Sri Lanka.

    We feed and fuel human rights abuses and violations of international law, globally. Loewenstein isn’t from the U.S., but most readers of this site are, so that’s important to point out. potsherd is right–defenders of Israel love to point to Darfur or Saudi Arabia, but not to Sri Lanka, Colombia, the Philippines, Nigeria, and all the other violators of human rights that are directly funded and enabled by the U.S. government:

    link to hoseyblog.blog.com

    Great post, Antony, thank you.

  3. David
    December 9, 2009, 12:03 pm

    For folks interested in advocacy/activism resources on this: link to pearlaction.org

  4. Shmuel
    December 9, 2009, 1:06 pm

    “A Marxist group of Tamil militants with connections to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and Cuba is preparing to mount a new insurgency in Sri Lanka six months after the Government declared an end to the 26-year-old war there.

    Sounds black ops to me (Marxist – check; PLO – check; Cuba – check), albeit somewhat dated black ops, lost somewhere in the jungles of Indochina c.1970.

  5. Rehmat
    December 9, 2009, 1:31 pm

    I remember not long ago, Israel Shamir proposed Malaysia model for the western occupied Palestine. Then some idiot came along and proposed an India model, which could have some similarities that both Hindu and Muslim elites are not the Natives (Dalits), but originally came as invaders like the Jew settlers in Palestine.

    Sri Lanka model is the most foolish proposal I have read – because there is no European community involved in the conflict. In fact the real communities sandwiched between Hindu Tigers and Buddhist Sri Lankans – are the Muslims.

    Israel like India is an artificial state and is doomed to breakup.

    India’s breakup is inevitable
    link to rehmat1.wordpress.com

    • SRS
      December 9, 2009, 7:07 pm

      ‘Israel like India is an artificial state and is doomed to breakup’ – Equating India and Israel in this fashion just brings out your ignorance about India and irrational rancour.

      Admittedly, India’s innumerable diversity does create fissiparous pressures and activites, India has myriad flaws and has a long way to go before reaching a well-functioning democracy and relatively egalitarian prosperity; but sorry brother, India’s breakup is not inevitable.

    • Julian
      December 10, 2009, 6:08 am

      The whole Arab world are artificial countries made up after the break up of the Ottoman Empire.

  6. Danaa
    December 9, 2009, 2:28 pm

    I was glad to see this article from Lowenstein. What amazed meat the time was how dreadfully quiet the world was in the face of obvious atrocities committed by Sri lanka. My conspiratorially oriented mind kept whispering that it could be a laboratory test, of what can be gotten away with, to what extent, for how long and under what conditions. The fact is, the plight of the Tamils was largely ignored by the world, with nary a whisper from the US (OK, there was a VER quiet whisper), even as news kept coming out of just how ruthless the subjugation of the Tamil independence movement was. people are still suffering, and it is still awfully quiet out there. Strangely enough, the international protesters are relatively quiet as well – for the most part. maybe it just wasn’t a sexy enough conflict. maybe the tamils themselves were too inexperienced in the ways of PR – kind of like the south american indians once were. maybe it’s too far away. or maybe there’s a deficit of sympathy all around. But maybe it’s something deeper?

    BTW, Honduras coup could have been another laboratory test. Look at what happened, the manufactured-for-PR lame protests from the US, Israel’s potential involvement, China/Russia’s lack of support for the ousted Zelaya, Then suddenly we have orderly elections, and business-blessed president is elected. Peace and quiet returns. News disappear from the front pages. Israel’s involvement is raised and hushed. Washington is evidently quite happy with the outcome. Did the powers-that-be “get away with it”?

    Cut to israel/palestine. can the sri lanka model be applied there?

    The good news is probably not. Israel did not really get away with gaza – they are still paying a price – and a large one at that – could be the one that tips the balance even in favor of the Palestinians (the empathy balance). Every palestinian expulsion in east jerusalem gets attention. every burning of olive trees gets a few lines in the news – even breaking into MSM, now and then. There is a large community of observers, activists, commentators and involved people who are totally vested in getting the news out, spreading the word about what’s going on. Just look at the march on gaza effort. no such thing was even remotely contemplated on behalf of the Tamil people. And hamas ain’t pussicats any more than the Tamil Tigers were, and still the activists act. We sometimes say the palestinians are unlucky to have Jews as their adversary. Perhaps we – who say that – are wrong – and the Palestinians are actually quite lucky. Just look who works hardest on their behalf: phil, Anna baltzer, lowenstein, blumenthal, code pink, etc. The Tamils had no such people advocating for them, advertising and analyzing the roots of their conflict with the dominant tribe, challenging sri lankan politicians, trying to get the story out.

    Just some thoughts to put out there.

    • David
      December 9, 2009, 2:48 pm

      Danaa, thanks, these are some really perceptive comments. I was writing furiously about this on my blog at the time but it was hard to find any real action to participate in (and I’m too swamped with P/I stuff to plan on my own, damn). PEARL was about the only group I found doing any national level work on it: link to pearlaction.org

      I really think there is room for a serious, sustained movement critiquing U.S. military aid and the way it is used globally. Sri Lanka, Israel, the Philipines, Colombia, Nigeria, Egypt–it’s maddening that we are funding and directly supporting militant violations of human rights in all of these places. Loewenstein’s post and your comment on it has really gotten my mind churning on this…

    • slowereastside
      December 9, 2009, 10:15 pm

      “Perhaps we – who say that – are wrong – and the Palestinians are actually quite lucky. Just look who works hardest on their behalf: phil, Anna baltzer, lowenstein, blumenthal, code pink, etc. The Tamils had no such people advocating for them, advertising and analyzing the roots of their conflict with the dominant tribe, challenging sri lankan politicians, trying to get the story out.”

      link to guardian.co.uk

  7. syvanen
    December 9, 2009, 8:06 pm

    The Tamils had no international advocates because they were one half of a very bloody civil war. Neither side could be defended in good conscience. Not only that but for the last 30 years they defeated the Sri Lankan army over and over again. Basically they were holding their own but never strong enough to invade and hold territory outside of Tamil. This year was different. Finally, the Sri Lankans managed to corner the Tamil Tiger fighters on a narrow peninsula and slaughtered them without mercy. Today they are getting a little sympathy.

    I can feel sorry for them but do believe they would have accomplished much more if they had not resorted to such incredible levels of violence.

  8. VR
    December 10, 2009, 2:31 am

    I think it is incredibly short sighted if people do not understand the real animus of the conflict, don’;t kid yourselves –


  9. Julian
    December 10, 2009, 6:04 am

    “The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people.”

    Another fake progressive quote. Your own link shows it.
    link to danielpipes.org
    Bad try. You should read your own links.

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