By Dayan Jayatilleka –
1. Those who identify the Hamas with the LTTE and the Israeli military with the Sri Lankan military, and therefore oppose Hamas and the Palestinians in general and support the Israelis in the new round of conflict. The Gotabaya hard core would belong to this category.
2. Those who support the Sri Lankan military victory over the Tigers while sympathizing with the Palestinians and opposing Israeli Occupation and aggression. The statement by Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and the remarks in Parliament by Opposition Leader and SJB leader Sajith Premadasa indicate that there is bipartisan support for this position. This is the traditional, mainstream Southern democratic position.
3. Those who oppose the Israeli action and sympathize with the Palestinian suffering and also oppose the final Sri Lankan military push which led to victory in May 2009. The TNA seems to belong to this category, going by parliamentarian MA Sumanthiran’s remarks.
4. Those who are neutral or less than supportive of the Sri Lankan state’s military defeat of the LTTE, but tilt to the Israelis rather than the Palestinians. These are die-hard pro-Western, anti-Third Worldist neoliberal right-wingers.
Historically and analytically, Position 2 is the most defensible. The Sri Lankan military never invaded any neighboring country, never occupied and annexed land beyond its borders and are not in violation of any UN Security Council Resolutions. It fought against a terrorist movement that was not resisting occupation by a foreign country but fighting a war for the secession of part of a country with legitimate internationally recognized borders.
By contrast, the defining characteristic of the Israeli-Palestinian situation is that of the Occupation. That Occupation is buttressed by annexation and the building of illegal settlements and ‘apartheid walls’ (as President Jimmy Carter has called them). The Palestinians in the Occupied territories are disenfranchised, while there is no citizen of Sri Lanka in the former conflict zones who is disenfranchised.
While it is true that Israel withdrew from Gaza, it is no less true that the withdrawal was accompanied by a tight blockade off Gaza. Unlike the LTTE, Hamas contested elections and won but its victory but that elected administration was not recognized by Israel or the West.
This in no way justifies the use of rockets to indiscriminately target Israeli cities by Hamas. The witting targeting of civilians by any violent force is terrorism.
This is also true of the state terrorism indulged in by the Israeli armed forces, in the service of the Occupation. The withdrawal from Gaza while blockading it, is akin to ‘withdrawing’ from a cell holding a prisoner while maintaining the jail in which that cell is located!
While every state has a right of self-defense, no state has the legitimate right of Occupation and to defend that occupation of land seized from other countries. It is one thing to resist foreign occupation through cross-border invasion and annexation, and another to fight a war for secession in a democratic state.
The war of the Sri Lankan state was a legitimate one; a war fought within its legitimate, recognized borders. The wars fought by Israel, certainly since the invasion of Lebanon in 1982, were illegitimate ones, just as the continued Israeli presence and the building of settlements on land beyond the 1967 borders, is illegitimate and illegal. There is no legal or moral equivalence between the Occupier and the Occupied.
President Jimmy Carter was not only talking about the walls when he wrote about “apartheid”. He said that Israel was moving towards a structural situation of ‘apartheid’ by ruling over huge numbers who did not have the right to vote. Though the Sri Lankan Far Right may dream of that and strive for it, we have never been and are not now an apartheid state which has disenfranchised a whole people.
Now for the issue of accountability in Sri Lanka’s war. Whatever happens beyond Sri Lanka’s borders, no meaningful action is possible on the island without the active concurrence and support of a Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan judiciary.
This cannot be obtained by an approach and any agency that denies the legitimacy of Sri Lanka’s war and denounces or regrets its victory over the Tigers in May 2009. No one with such an approach will win an election and form a government. Even President Sirisena did not share that view.
Today, with the two new formations, the SLPP in one corner and the SJB (of which the war-winning army commander is chairman) in the other, there is a broad consensus in support of the historic outcome of May 2009. Not even the JVP and FSP have dared to venture a contrary opinion about 2009.
This does not mean that accountability is unattainable in Sri Lanka. What it does mean is that the issue of accountability has to be delinked from any questioning of the historically positive character of the victory of May 2009. The questioning—and questioning there must surely be – must be about specific episodes and the methods used, in violation of national and international law.
Justice for the victims of atrocities is a moral imperative. Justice can only be achieved through and with those who endorsed and continued to endorse, and even celebrated, the victory of the Sri Lankan state over the Tigers.
The SJB has rightly taken its stand for an “internationally credible” accountability mechanism and process, based on the LLRC and the Paranagama Commission Reports and their recommendations. That’s as good as it gets and can get.
I very much doubt there will be a return to the disgraceful days of the authorship and co-sponsorship of the 2015 Geneva Resolution, with its foreign participation component, by any Sri Lankan government. To borrow Tony Blair’s phrase, the pluralist democratic forces have “been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and won’t go back there again”. Any political formation which is even suspected of being oriented in that direction will not be elected or worse still, may be prevented from taking office or ousted from it.
Another dimension that must not be forgotten is that of Tamil autonomy. A feasible mix has to be achieved between accountability and autonomy. There should not be a trade-off, nor should “the best be the enemy of the good”. The SJB leadership has taken a stand for the implementation of the 13th amendment, without deletion or dilution. It is also insistent on upholding the unitary character of the Sri Lankan state. In a context in which neither the SLPP nor the JVP has made this commitment to the defense of devolution, this is once again, as good as it gets.
Justice can be achieved on the ground, only through the agency of those who wish the “rotten apples” in the serving and former military to be weeded out, so as to clean up the act of the military, and remove the stains from a great victory over totalitarian secessionist-terrorism.
Similarly, devolution/autonomy can be delivered only by a mainstream democratic force that upholds sovereignty, and the unitary state.
Justice cannot be achieved or implemented on Sri Lankan soil, through the agency of those who mourn the defeat of a militia defined as “almost classically fascist” by The Economist (London) and the death of the man who was called “the Pol Pot of South Asia” in the New York Times, by Pulitzer Prize winning journalist John F Burns.