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Sri Lanka’s double standard on UN vote on Gaza

 

In the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, I wrote in these pages why many who feel outrage at the Hamas barbarism may still hesitate for an unqualified condemnation of the attack. The apartheid practices of the Israeli state in the occupied territories of Palestine lead many fair-minded people to empathise with the suffering of the oppressed than the oppressor. Not to mention the maximalist nature of some Palestinian demands, such as the right to return of refugees to Israel proper, which would drastically alter its demographic character, and rent-seeking Palestinian leadership have helped perpetuate Palestinian suffering.   


But, as the full scale of the Hamas attack comes to light – families burnt alive, children butchered, carnival goers slaughtered, and sickening display of celebration of this barbarism in some quarters, one can not help but agree that it has no recent parallels in its sheer brutality- except for Islamic State violence. It crosses all written and unwritten conventions of revolutionary violence. It was not violence as a means to an end, which many revolutionaries and groups, from Mao to the IRA, have condoned as a necessary evil. It is violence as the end itself, a medieval hatred unleashed on the innocents for the celebration of violence itself.  


As for a Sri Lankan who has lived under the shadow of two decades of terrorism, and as someone who reported the ethnic conflict as a journalist, the immediate analogy I can think of the sheer brutality of Hamas’s attack on the Israeli kibbutz is the LTTE massacres in the border villages in an industrial scale.   
For an average Sri Lankan to make sense of these senseless crimes, Hamas massacred more civilians in a single day than the Kattankudy mosque massacre in 1990, the Sri Maha Bodhi Masscare in 1985, Habarana bus massacre in 1987, Palliyagoddalle massacre in 1991, Central Bank bombing in 1996 and Dehiwala train bombing in 1996 combined.   


Double standards  

Therefore, when it voted in the UN General Assembly, one would expect the Sri Lankan government to empathise with victims, no matter which side of the conflict they are. That is in no way an all-out endorsement of the Israel military onslaught on Gaza, nor is it overlooking the sordid reality of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.  
Rightly so, the government voted in favour of the UN General Assembly resolution, calling for an immediate humanitarian pause for the conflict.  
But, at the same time, unfortunately, it voted against an amendment which condemned Hamas for terrorism.   


The amendment proposed by Canada to the original Jordanian Draft of the UNGA resolution included a direct condemnation of Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack and a call for the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas. It failed to garner the required two-thirds majority, with 88 votes in favour, 53 against, and 23 abstentions.  
The government should explain to the people of this country, who themselves were all too frequent victims of terrorism, what stopped it short of condemning a terrorist group that massacred 1,400 civilians and supporting a call for the release of 220 civilian hostages.   
That refusal to condemn a nihilistic terrorist carnage is not just an affront to its immediate victims, it is an insult to a long list of our own who have perished in terrorist violence in this country.   


Supporting the amendment that unequivocally condemned Hamas would not have precluded Sri Lanka from voting for the Jordanian-backed original resolution that called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.   
For instance, India supported the amendment, and when it was defeated, India abstained from voting for the main resolution. Whereas countries as wide-ranging as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Portugal, Singapore and many others voted in favour of the amendment and later, when it failed, they also voted for the final resolution, which, despite calling for an immediate ceasefire, failed to condemn Hamas for acts of terrorism.  


So, this is not a take-it-or-leave deal. Sri Lanka could well have expressed its outrage at the terrorist violence on October 7 and condemned Hamas, at the same time, supported the final resolution calling for a humanitarian ceasefire.  
After all, Sri Lanka has a moral responsibility and self-interest to condemn terrorism wherever it manifests, for I can not repeat this enough: we ourselves were victims of terrorism for too long, at the hands of a terrorist group, which some countries, during different times, considered as ‘good terrorists’.  


Hypocrisy or selective empathy?  

Consider ourselves in a situation where after an LTTE massacre of border villagers, a bunch of countries, instead of condemning the terrorist attack for what it is, calling for peace talks with terrorists. We have been there way too many times, and there is no guarantee that the horrid past would not repeat itself. (The more you feel safer, the greater the chance of terrorists exploiting that security vacuum as the Easter Sunday attack would indicate.)  
Given our lived experience, it is not hard for an average Sri Lankan to empathise with the victims of Hamas violence, just as they feel empathy with the Palestinian victims of Israeli occupation.  


Therefore, it is safe to say that the government’s refusal to condemn Hamas for terrorism is in no way influenced by public opinion. It runs counter to it.  
What influenced the government’s choice is also hard to discern, except for a sense of self-contradiction, irrationality and usual dogmatism. It is tempting to rationalise the decision on the economic dependency on remittance from migrant labour from the Gulf. However, such relations might have been affected if Sri Lanka voted against the global call for a ceasefire in Gaza but not in the government’s principled stance on condemning terrorism. Interestingly, India, which has the largest contingent of migrant workers in the Middle East, voted for the defeated amendment and later abstained from voting for the ceasefire.  


101 of terrorism  

Probably, the government was also being swayed by the usual good terrorists and bad terrorist conundrum. Sri Lanka was at the receiving end of this thinking when we were fighting terrorists who slaughtered civilians. Still, some members of the international community were more inclined to see the ‘political goals’ of the terrorists than the barbarism of their actions.  


Terrorists are called terrorists not for their political goals but for the actions and strategies they adopt in pursuance of these goals - when their actions constitute premeditated acts of violence targeting civilians in order to influence a target audience through the sheer display of terror.  
For a country that has suffered under terrorism, it is not hard for Sri Lanka to stick to this commonsense position on terrorism wherever it occurs. By trying to find moral justifications for terrorism, Sri Lanka is weakening its own defence.  
UN General Assembly resolutions are nonbinding, and Israel rejected the call for a ceasefire and questioned the legitimacy of the UN.  


At the time of writing, a humanitarian catastrophe is dawning in Gaza, as Israel is proceeding with a land incursion, having reduced to rubble much of the civilian infrastructure in Gaza through intense aerial bombing. Civilian deaths have crossed 8,000, one-third of which are children. Israel’s actions, by all accounts, constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, when the countries, including Sri Lanka, fail in the first place to call terrorism by its name, they unfortunately compromise their moral right to call out Israel for its war crimes.  

Follow @RangaJayasuriya on X  


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  Comments - 2

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  • Acid Friday, 03 November 2023 03:15 PM

    If Hamas are terrorists, so is Keppetipola, and all the Uwa Welassa people. I don't see the government condemning them? So why should it condemn Hamas. You are a cheap fellow Mr. Jayasooriya.

    Wiraj Friday, 03 November 2023 06:14 PM

    Writer conveniently ignores other parallels. When Tamils wanted to get equal rights thru negotiations and non-violence, they were beaten up and ridiculed which gave birth to the barbaric LTTE, same way Hamas was born from the oppressed Palestinians. Yes LTTE did horrible massacres in the south. What about the much worser massacres in the North


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