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War on Gaza sees rare unity in the House but govt’s move to send workers to Israel draws fire

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By Sandun Jayawardana  

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle condemned the continuing bloodshed in Gaza and called for a permanent ceasefire as the House debated the Palestine issue on Tuesday (14).

Moving the adjournment motion, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress (SLMC) Leader Rauff Hakeem called on the government to consider severing diplomatic relations with Israel should it continue with its military operations in Gaza in defiance of international calls for a ceasefire.  

Mr. Hakeem appealed to Hamas to free Israeli hostages it is holding unharmed but said the administration of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu never had any intention of freeing the hostages currently in Gaza. “They want to sacrifice the hostages and eliminate the entire civilian population from the Gaza Strip. This is an unfolding genocide and this has to be called into question,” he said.

He criticised the government for “bragging” that it has balanced both Israelis and Iranians and said what the government had done is to become virtual slaves to the US. The SLMC Leader was also critical of the move to send Sri Lankan workers to Israel, alleging that they are being sent to work in Israeli farms to fill the vacancies created by poor Gaza civilians.

The resolution is being discussed at a time when the young generation all over the world is giving new meaning to freedom, democracy and the value of human rights, said Samagi Jana Balawegaya (SJB) MP Imthiaz Bakeer Markar, seconding the motion. He was referring to the protests that have sprung up in many leading universities in the US and other countries. He recalled that the protests are reminiscent of the student-led protests that swept through universities in the US and other nations during the Vietnam War.

“It is not suitable to remain mum in the face of this genocide hoping for economic advantages. Even in this last moment, we must devote our energies to condemning Israel’s actions,” he stressed.

The Israel-Palestine issue is an extremely complicated problem and there are many underlying matters that are complex and sensitive, said former President and Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) Leader Mahinda Rajapaksa. “However, we stress that war is not a solution to this crisis.”

He said as a country, Sri Lanka must urge world leaders and organisations to swiftly intervene. “We urge the government to continue its utmost efforts to bring relief to the Palestinian people,” Mr Rajapaksa added.

The Palestinian people are facing “state terrorism on a mass scale,” said Opposition Leader Sajith Premadasa.

He added that the Israeli government is bent on the destruction of Palestine, and is invading Palestinian land and setting up new settlements. If this genocide continues, even if a Palestinian State is created, it will not have any people to inhabit it, said Mr Premadasa.

He said the policies of Premier Netanyahu government’s are an insult to the Jews who were subjected to horrors of Hitler’s Holocaust.

The situation in Palestine is truly horrible and cannot be ignored by any civilized country or people, said Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MP M.A. Sumanthiran. Mr Sumanthiran however, accused Members of the House of doublespeak and hypocrisy for their demands for an international investigation into Israel’s crimes in Palestine while insisting that what occurred during Sri Lanka’s own war was an “internal matter.”

He pointed to the recent incident in Sampur where police obtained a court order and subsequently arrested several women who were making and distributing ‘Kanji’ in remembrance of Tamils who had been killed in Mullivaikkal during the final stages of the war. Internationally, a commemoration has a very important place. To stop a commemoration of that nature itself exposes the face of the state, the MP remarked.

“We stand in solidarity with the people of Palestine because we know what it was to suffer at the hands of state terrorist forces,” Mr Sumanthiran emphasised.

National People’s Power MP Vijitha Herath noted that the UN was created with the purpose of resolving such conflicts peacefully. However, it has come to a point where the UN’s decisions have proved worthless. This has resulted in people losing faith in the world body. One main reason for this loss of trust is the UN’s lack of intervention in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. If the US continues to stay belligerent, the UN has a duty to intervene directly in this conflict, he further said.

Mr. Herath also condemned the police arrest of the women in Sampur. “If this barbarism is taking place in Sri Lanka, it too should be stopped. Relatives have the right to remember their loved ones. That right is recognised the world over and is also available to citizens of Sri Lanka. The government has a duty to protect that right,” the MP noted.

State Minister of Foreign Affairs Tharaka Balasuriya said Mr. Hakeem’s call for breaking off diplomatic relations with Israel is impractical. He pointed out that a number of Arab countries too continue to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel while many other nations that do not, still have economic ties with the country.

He added that both the current Sri Lankan government and previous ones have directly supported the Palestinians. “But this does not mean we support Houthis, Hamas or Hezbollah.”

About 10, 000 jobs are available in the agriculture sector in Israel while 20, 000 jobs are available in the construction sector. More jobs are also due to open up in the caregiver sector, said the State Minister. If Sri Lanka were to stop sending workers to Israel, workers from other countries will get those job opportunities, he noted, adding that it is extremely callous to call for the government to stop sending workers to Israel when those workers can earn high salaries.

Mr. Balasuriya pointed out that Sri Lanka was among 77 nations that co-sponsored the recent UN General Assembly resolution calling for full membership status for Palestine. Sri Lanka was also among the 143 countries to vote in favour of the resolution.

He added that Sri Lanka also recently contributed US$ 1 million to assist children in Gaza who have been impacted by the Israeli assault.

“While recognizing the legitimate security concerns of both the Palestinians and the Israeli people, we support the diplomatic efforts to find a lasting resolution to the conflict and request both parties to engage in a dialogue to achieve a durable peace. The two States living side-by-side in harmony with one another within secured borders is key to achieving long-term peace, security and prosperity,” said Mr Balasuriya. He added that Sri Lanka proposes a Palestinian State be established within five years.

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