The recent atrocities in Gaza have again refocused world attention on Palestine and the actions of the Israeli state and the Palestinian people. Israel is engaged in yet another exercise of what is euphemistically called “Mowing the lawn”- air strikes and military invasion undertaken on a periodic basis to subjugate the people of Gaza and make sure that Israel remains in control, on its own terms. The most likely outcome, right now, looks like a worsening of the status quo, with Israel tightening the clamps around the throats of the Palestinian people.
At first glance, the people of Palestine and the people of Sri Lanka would appear to have little in common. In point of fact, though, the two places are more similar than you might think. Both are descended from British colonies and became independent in the same year, 1948. Most pertinently, both areas experienced allegedly ‘ancient’ ethnonationalist politics of conflict in which there are calls for partition of the territory. Both areas have experienced a lengthy military fight over land.
When so many former British colonies have the same types of conflicts, we have reason to look to the history to examine whether correlation implies causation in this case. The first key question for comparison is whether ethnicity and land play out differently in former British colonies like India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, Cyprus, Ireland, Sri Lanka, Palestine, and Nigeria. All of these countries experienced territorial partitions under the logic of ‘communal’ separation. A tentative hypothesis as to why might look at the ways in which personal economic advancement in the colonial era was tied to the ability to stake a claim on behalf of a ‘community’. The second is this: does the organizing of politics into militarized ethnic conflict lead to the overshadowing of a pro-people and pro-labor discourse? In India, for example, the violence of the 1947 partition led many on the left to turn away from the politics of conflict as they witnessed the suffering of the people. Is this the case in Palestine and Sri Lanka as well?
There are, of course, key differences as well. The most notable one between Sri Lanka and Palestine is that Sri Lanka’s large-scale military conflict ended in 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE at the hands of the Sri Lankan government. Proponents of the Palestinian people ought to take a lesson from the end of that war; tens of thousands of civilians died under circumstances that are being investigated by the United Nations. Another major difference, however, would seem to offer hope: the world stood by and barely blinked while Sri Lanka endured human rights violations that continue to today. In contrast, the world is transfixed by what is happening in Palestine and Israel endures a level of scrutiny that is somewhat unusual among world states.