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 1970n 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 Community Party, led by Late Premier Mrs. Srimavo 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 sufficient number of Muslim votes.
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.
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 organizations were involved in supporting the Palestinian, there was no organized 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 mobilize 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 nonentity 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 Rajapakse. Before finalizing the move we approached Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse, 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 Tamil.
As a mark of growing relations between Sri Lanka and the Palestinians the first ever diplomatic mission of the Palestine Liberation Organization 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 through horse’s.
The Solidarity committee started organizing 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 organized 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. Srimavo 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- BANDARANAYIKE”.
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.Jayawardene 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 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 honor him with a doctorate.
Throughout this period Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse supported the activities of the committee. Thirty years of the Solidarity Committee coincided with Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse 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’s assumed office as Sri Lanka’s first ever amabasador 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 Mahinda Rajapase.
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 Organization; respected Muslim politician Dr M.C.M.Kaleel and his All Ceylon Muslim League; Al Hajj Dr Badiuddin Mahmud and his ISf together with LSSP theoretician Hector Abeywardene and the Community Party leader late Peiter Keunamen.