COLOMBO: Sri Lankans who since October have been rallying in solidarity with Gaza say they are ashamed and angered by their government’s decision to send thousands of workers to Israel.
Since the beginning of its deadly onslaught on the Palestinian enclave, Israel has revoked work permits for tens of thousands of Palestinian laborers and sought to replace them with workers from South Asia.
In November, Sri Lanka’s embassy reached an agreement with the Israeli government to allow the immediate hiring of 10,000 Sri Lankans on farms and construction sites.
The first groups of workers left for Israel this month, raising both ethical and safety concerns.
“We should not exploit this situation,” said Sudath Dewapura, president of the Sri Lanka chapter of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, a group behind interfaith rallies in solidarity with Palestine.
In desperate need of funds after going through an economic crisis last year, Sri Lanka has been trying to secure employment for its nationals overseas, where they can earn much more than at home.
But the decision to send them to conflict zones and a state that imposes apartheid has fueled resistance and criticism.
“We totally oppose this form of bringing dollars to the country,” Dewapura told Arab News.
Shreen Abdul Saroor, a prominent rights activist who has been leading the Gaza solidarity protests, said that sending workers to Israel helped Tel Aviv’s “century-old and well thought out ethnic cleansing.”
More than 21,100 Palestinians have been killed and tens of thousands wounded since Israel launched its bombardment of Gaza from air, land and sea. The injured have struggled to get medical help as airstrikes have destroyed most of the hospitals and clinics in the enclave.
“The more workers we send in to replace Palestinian workers means we are buying into their annihilation of the Palestinian state,” Saroor told Arab News, echoing resistance in India where trade unions last month said that sending workers to Israel would amount to complicity in the “ongoing genocidal war against Palestinians.”
Ameen Izzadeen, international editor of The Sunday Times weekly who joined the protests in Colombo, said that Sri Lanka opposed apartheid rule in South Africa to the point that after some of its cricketers toured the country in the 1980s they were barred from playing international games.
“That was the commitment that Sri Lanka had, so similar commitment is warranted with regard to Israel and its horrible practices in occupied Palestinian territory,” he told Arab News.
As Sri Lanka heads the UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories, Izzadeen said the government knew what was happening in Gaza and the West Bank.
“In spite of this knowledge and in spite of this awareness, if the government is sending labor force, it’s totally immoral,” he said.
“I know the Sri Lankan government is desperate for dollars, but there is a time when we need to make some sacrifices. The government should stop it immediately and that’s what we’ve been calling for.”