So Gaza was disproportionate

Where is the international outcry against the Tamil slaughter

By Geoffrey Alderman, July 16, 2009

Earlier this year, two military operations were undertaken in two of the world’s most volatile conflict zones. In the first, Israel launched a large-scale incursion into Gaza, following months of rocket and grenade attacks against Israel by Gaza’s Hamas government and by independent Islamist militias that Hamas was unable or unwilling to control.

You can take whatever view you please of the legal and military justification for this action. You can argue that Israel’s action was “disproportionate” or that Israel should have turned a blind eye to the attacks. You can point to the overwhelming military might that Israel brought to bear on an area less than 140 square miles in size, into which are crammed some 1.4 million persons. You can assert that, therefore, it was inevitable there were going to be significant civilian casualties. You can then argue that the worldwide demonstrations that ensued against Israel were utterly predictable and thoroughly deserved.

If you do espouse these arguments, may I ask you to put all your passion to one side, just for a moment, and consider the second of these military operations? I refer, of course, to the civil conflict in Sri Lanka.

You can take whatever view you please of the origin of this conflict. You can declare that the Tamil people who inhabit the north and east of the island of Sri Lanka had been victimised and oppressed for decades, and that their demand — or at least the demand of some of them — for independence was fully justified.

You can, if you wish, extend this justification to the modi operandi employed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam. I refer not merely to their campaign of political assassinations and random murders, but their pioneering use of the suicide bomb and the suicide belt.

You can point with appropriate disdain to the fact of the proscription of the Tamil Tigers as a terrorist organisation by more than 30 countries, and you can claim that this was without justification. You can glory in the fact that the Tigers were responsible for more suicide attacks than Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Al Qaeda combined.

You can deny that the Tigers ever took civilian hostages, and you can condemn without reservation the many authoritative reports that they routinely used human shields.

You can point instead to the brutal, “disproportionate” means used by the government of Sri Lanka to liquidate the Tigers, to that government’s refinement of techniques first employed by the British during the Boer War to deal with a guerrilla insurgency — I mean the corralling of enemy civilians within poorly provisioned concentration camps, and the banning of “relief” organisations from ameliorating the situation of those imprisoned in these camps (though, to be fair to the British, some relief work was eventually permitted, whereas the Sri Lankan government never showed such mercy).

Take whatever view you please on these matters but please do not deny what is undeniable — that, whereas the sum total of deaths resulting from the recent Gaza conflict was 13 Israelis and around 1,300 Palestinians (including Hamas military personnel), the sum total of deaths resulting from the Tamil uprising runs into tens of thousands, and that, in the final stages of the conflict, the UN estimated that at least 6,500 civilians had been killed and more than 13,000 injured.

Worse, in the concentration camps (“welfare villages”) established by the Sri Lankan government, the civilian death toll is now — as you read this column — around 1,400 per week. So where, I ask you to ask yourselves, is the international outcry? Where are the calls for a cultural and academic boycott of Sri Lanka and Sri Lankans?

A media analysis recently published by reports that, across the five major daily broadsheets, war crimes allegations against Israel were featured earlier this year twice as often as similar allegations in relation to Sri Lanka.

If the Tamils had been Arabs, and the Sri Lankans had been Jews, you can rest assured that no such imbalance would have resulted.

Last updated: 1:34pm, July 17 2009