Sri Lanka-A great friend of Palestinians
Sri Lanka has been in the forefront in supporting the just cause of
Palestinians who were robbed of their land at gun points to establish a
State for Jews who were brought in from Europe and the Middle East.
This support was based on sheer conviction. In this regard the
Island’s Muslim community and the mainly left political parties remained
steadfast, so much so that during the 1970 general elections expelling
the Israeli legation in the island was a pledge by the United Front
coalition of Sri Lankan Freedom Party, Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the
Communist Party, led by Late Premier Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike. The
Late Minister Al Haj Dr Badiuddin Mahmud and his now defunct Islamic
Socialist Party played a crucial role in convincing the UF leaders to
give this assurance which brought in a sufficient number of Muslim
The United Front was voted to power and, as pledged, the Israeli
legation in Colombo was closed down despite threats from the Zionist
lobbies in London and other places to boycott the import of tea which
was the prime source of foreign exchange to Sri Lanka-long before the
employment opportunities in the Gulf and other regions which started
bringing substantial foreign exchange.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Responding to these threats the late Minister T.B. Ilangaratne, a
strong supporter of Arab cause, said “we may eat the grass, but we will
not bow down to economic boycott from any quarter”. Such was the degree
of the island’s independent foreign policy long before the devastating
ethnic conflict which brought in all sorts of deadly regional and
international players to influence our foreign policy.
Though political parties and cultural organisations were involved in
supporting the Palestinians, there was no organised group as such to
campaign this course. Senior journalists Hamza Haniffa and T.M. Deen
espoused this cause in their monthly publication Al Eslam while Dr. H.M.
Mahroof, President of the Muslim National Movement, established the
first ever committee to mobilise support.
Dr Mahroof’s committee was based in Kandy and the need was felt to
establish a similar committee in Colombo on the eve of the summit of Non
Aligned Movement which was a forum and force to reckon with before the
fiercely independent Afghans brought down the Soviet Union, and paved
the way for the current disastrous uni polar world which virtually
turned the Non Aligned Movement and the developing countries almost
nonentities in the international scene.
It was during this time that I discussed the subject of forming a
committee in Colombo to support the Palestinians with Tilak Jayasinghe
who was then the private secretary to the then Fisheries Minister George
Rajapaksa. Before finalising the move we approached Mahinda Rajapaksa,
the young Member of Parliament, to be the chairman of the proposed
Solidarity Committee. He agreed without any reservation. Within weeks
came into being the Sri Lanka Committee for Solidarity with Palestine
which was kept in limelight both in the print media and the radio in the
absence of electronic media. Former Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation
journalist Alhaj M.S.A. Hassan played a crucial role in providing
publicity for all the activities of the Solidarity Committee in the one
and only radio station in all three languages-English, Sinhala and
As a mark of growing relations between Sri Lanka and the Palestinians
the first ever diplomatic mission of the Palestine Liberation
Organisation was established in Colombo. Mrs. Bandaranaike’s Government
extended all the required assistance to the mission. The arrival of PLO
representative gave an added impetus to the activities of the Solidarity
Committee. Sri Lankans in general who hitherto knew about the
Palestinian issue through the media came to know first hand information
on different aspects of Palestine-Israeli issue.
The Solidarity Committee started organising meetings at schools,
universities, cultural centers and all other places all over the island
taking the PLO representative who was received with warmth and kindness
where ever he went.
The representative in turn explained the Palestine-Israel issue
injustice and the unprecedented injustice committed to Palestinians who
were uprooted from their own homes and lands with the support of Britain
during her mandatory rule in Palestine to pave the way for incoming Jews
to set up their own state.
Meanwhile, on the eve of the Non Aligned Nations Summit in Colombo in
1976, the Solidarity Committee organised a signature campaign of 100
leading people from all walks of life from all communities ranging from
businessmen, small time traders, doctors, lawyers, farmers, journalists,
clerical servants, religious leaders and others. This memorandum was
submitted for adoption by the Non Aligned Nations Summit to be submitted
to the United Nations to expel Israel from the world body in view of its
never ending criminal records, lawlessness and failure to implement the
UN Resolutions 242 and 338 demanding the withdrawal of Israel from the
occupied Palestinian and Arab lands.
As a person who spent almost a quarter century of my life living and
working in the Gulf as a journalist, I would safely conclude that Mrs.
Sirimavo Bandaranaike, her ministers and Sri Lanka as a whole had done
more to support the genuine Palestinian cause than some of the Arab
leaders and Arab countries. Sri Lanka’s unstinted support to the
Palestinians’ cause has won the hearts and minds of Arab population all
over from the Gulf to North African Maghreb states. So much so the
movement we say we are from Sri Lanka the common response, with some
kind of unknown affection, from people almost every walk of life is “Oh-
Mahinda Rajapaksa, the young
Member of Parliament, to be the chairman of
the proposed Solidarity Committee. He agreed without any
reservation. Within weeks came into being
the Sri Lanka Committee for Solidarity with Palestine which was
kept in limelight both in the print media and the radio in the
absence of electronic media.
With the defeat of Mrs. Bandaranaike’s UF Government in the 1977
General Elections which brought to power the United National Party led
by pro American J.R. Jayewardene with an overwhelming majority the
island’s support to Palestinian cause began to dwindle. In their drive
to earn their bread and butter under the new Government’s open economy
the ideologically oriented people had to set aside their ideologies to
work hard to ensure their survival.
In the midst of all this I too left the island for employment in 1979
and it was T. Jayasinghe that shared the burden when he single handedly
worked hard to keep alive the support for the Palestinian cause while
Hamza Haniffa continued his steadfast support in the Al Eslam. Meanwhile
T. Jayasinghe retired and fell ill. Despite his prolonged ailment and
dwindling income, he kept himself busy with press releases which, he
himself wrote, and other means espousing the cause of Palestinians. The
once active Muslims too became inactive and there were occasions when T
Jayasinghe did not have money to even buy stamps to post press releases.
Yet he was not discouraged but continued his support to the Palestinian
cause which became an integral part of his life.
In appreciation of this support the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat,
during his visit to Sri Lanka, requested the authorities of a
Palestinian university to honour him with a doctorate.
Throughout this period Mahinda Rajapaksa supported the activities of
the committee. Thirty years of the Solidarity Committee coincided with
Mahinda Rajapaksa taking the mantle of premiership. He hosted a party at
Visumpaya to celebrate three decades of the fruitful services of the
Solidarity Committee at Visumpaya. During this function which also
marked the annual general meeting of the Solidarity Committee Labour
Minister Athauda Seneviratne and former Information Minister Imtiaz
Bakeer Markar were elected as co-presidents of the Solidarity Committee
which continues to date.
Last year Jayasinghe assumed office as Sri Lanka’s first ever
ambassador to Palestine where, in yet another move to further cement the
ties between Sri Lanka and Palestinians, he took the initiative to name
a road in the ancient Palestinian city of Ramallah after President
In this regard it is worthwhile to remember, among numerous others,
the unwavering support of people like late Democratic Workers Congress
Chairman A Aziz and Dr Jaya Pathirana of the Afro Asian Solidarity
Organisation; respected Muslim politician Dr. M.C.M. Kaleel and his All
Ceylon Muslim League; Al Haj Dr. Badiuddin Mahmud and his ISF together
with LSSP theoretician Hector Abeywardene and the Communist Party Leader