Palmyra land gets Palestine style Intifada

by D.B.S. Jeyaraj

Yarlpanam or Jaffna,  the land of Palmyra trees,  is getting a taste of what
seems to be the beginning of a  Palestine - style  "Intifada" for the past few
days. Jaffna students and youths have been  engaging in demonstrations with
the demand " Iranuvame Velieru! Illaiyel Veliettuvom" (Army Quit  or we will
make you Quit). The phenomenon of young'uns braving the overwhelming
might of what is perceived as an army of occupation and urging it to withdraw
is reminiscent to a great extent of the Intifada movements in Israel occupied
Palestine.

The central focus of media attention during the past week has been the spate
of attacks on soldiers of the Sri Lankan army in the Jaffna peninsula.
Seventeen soldiers have been killed and twenty - seven injured in eighteen
attacks over a four day period. Most of the attacks consisted of handbombs
and grenades being thrown and gunfire being directed at targets with a
combination of both in some instances. The targets were army  sentry posts,
mini - camps and mobile patrols. Seven and eight soldiers were killed  
respectively in two claymore mine ambushes of two army patrols at Kondavil
and Irupalai. One soldier was killed in a grenade cum gunfire attack at
Neervely and another in a similar one at Nunavil.

Parallel to these developments was the staging of student protests. This
particular round began at Point Pedro with students of Hartley College and
Methodist Girls Hgh school demonstrating against the construction of a new
bund across Hartley College grounds, the erection of further barbed wire
barricades  and setting up of assitional sentry posts within the school zone.
Soon there were clashes with students and student "activists" throwing stones,
bottles etc at the armed forces who retaliated with assaults, tear gas attacks
and firing in the air.At least fifty tear gas cannisters were recovered in Point
Pedro on the first day.

The student demonstrations and related violence then spread to other parts of
the Vadamaratchy region like Puloly, Manthigai, Nelliaddy, Thunnalai, etc.  
The armed forces reacted with tear gassing nd assaults as students boldly
demonstrated in front of camps demanding closure. Stones, bottles and
improvised molotov cocktails were thrown. Students covered with  wet gunny
sacks withstood the severe tear gassing.Troops fired in the air too.

Thereafter the protests  pervaded Jaffna town with students demonstrating
there too. Jaffna Hindu College students protesting in solidarity with their
Hartley counterparts were brutally assaulted by soldiers of the army camp in
Kaladdy junction. Soon demonstrations were held demanding the closure of
Kaladdy junction camp and withdrawal of troops. The response once again
was the use of force to "pacify" the demonstrators.This included firing.

The Sri Lanka Moniotoring Mission seemed totaly powerless to stop this unrest
and violence. Two attempts to resolve the dispute through negotiations were
made where the truce monitors arranged for meetings between army officials
and student representatives in Point Pedro and Jaffna. Both ended in failure
with the rival protagonists sticking firmly to their positions.

The attacks on security personnel in Jaffna by tiger and pro - tiger elements
such as the "makkal Padai" or "peoples force" had resulted in a predictable
response by the government. Additional troops were concentrated in Jaffna.
These troops in a state of heightened insecurity or aggression or both were
venting their feelings on the Jaffna civilians. People were being assaulted by
sticks, clubs, belts and rifle butts. Many of these attacks were on youths and
students. This fuelled the rising tide of resentment.

The highwatermark was the attacks by soldiers on undergraduates of the
Jaffna University at Thirunelvely and Technical College at Kokkuvil. The
undergraduates union too began a boycott of lectures.Their demand was that
the camps in the vicinity of the University and Technical College be shut down
and personnel withdrawn.40 Sinhala and 26 Muslim students at the Jaffna
University have returned to the South fearing an escalation of violation in
Jaffna.

With student protests escalating and spreading most schools in Jaffna became
deserted.Students sitting for exams in progress  decreased in numbers. There
was also increasing pressure on teachers unions to come out in support of the
students. The various student organizations were formed into an organization
called the "Yarl Mavadda Thamil Manavar Ondriam" (Jaffna district Tamil
students union).

This association heavily influenced by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
began coordinating and directing activity. The well - known LTTE front called
the "Sarvathesa Thamil Maanavar Koottamaippu" or "International Tamil
student Federation" is providing moral, political and logistical support to the
student union. The federation is controlled by tiger activist and Tamil National
Alliance MP Selvakumar Gajendran alias "kuthirai" Gajendran.

The spreading student protests have not come out with a comprehensive and
explicit demand calling for the withdrawal of the army from Jaffna so far. While
a general  demand  calling for army withdrawal is made the specific demands
are all localised like those related to Hartley College, Kaladdy junction,
University vicinity camps etc. There are signs however that these protests
could be expanded into an all embracing total withdrawal of soldiers from
Jaffna.The current " Army Quit  or we will make you Quit" slogan is now
directed against specific army camps but in the future it could be against the
total military presence.

The students could also get better organized and come under a centralised
authority in the future. An ultimatum until 6.00 pm on Thursday  was also
issued to vacate the Hartley, Kaladdy junction and Thirunelvely camps.Since
the army is staying put only the coming days will indicate the future course of  
current  student agitation. An ominous sign is the threat implied in many
student statements that the protests could resort to armed force if the current
demonstrations do not get a positive response. The armed violence of the
peoples force could combine with the powerful energy of the student activists  
and with LTTE backing erupt into a full scale uprising on the lines of the
Palestinian Intifada.

"Intifada" or "intefada" in Arabic means  "to  shake off". In the present context it
has become an Arabic language term for "uprising".These uprisings have in
recent times become a very significant aspect of Israeli - Palestinian
relationships.The first Intifada began in 1987 as a spontaneous uprising  but  
soon a manipulative Palestine Liberation Organization  took control of it with
the more "extremist" Hamas competing. It was however less violent in
comparison with the second Intifada. The first Intifada was a pressure device
exerted by the PLO and culminated in 1993 with the Oslo accords.

The second intifada  known as the "al - aqsa Intifada" began in 2000 and by
some accounts continues even today. The second Palestinian Intifada was
extremely violent. Instigated and supported by the Hamas and extreme
elements within the PLO the second Intifada proved to be an indirect
challenge to the mainstream PLO. If the PLO remote - controlled the first one
from Tunisia the hierarchy was right there in Palestine for the second one.
Fuelled by the failure of the Oslo accord and the advent of  Ariel Sharon  the
fierce uprising contributed greatly to diminishing  Yassir Arafat's  image.

Even though the two "intifada" campaigns aimed at ending the Israeli military
occupation  came into popular usage in recent times  within the Palestinian
context  the term has  often been  recurring in Arab political discourse. As far
back as in 1952  when the people of Baghdad engaged a series of wide -
spread protests against the then Iraqui regime it was referred to as the
"intifada". After the recent USA  - led invasion of Iraq in 2003 the uprising  
launched against it by militant Shia cleric Muqtada al - Sadr was called the Iraq
Intifada.

The wave of demonstrations and riots in May this year in the Morocco -
occupied Western Sahara was also named " El - Aiyun Intifada "or
"Independence Intifada" by the  Sahrawi people. Even the 1999 Western
Sahara uprising was called the Smara Intifada and the 1970 movement
against Spanish occupation was known as the "zemla Intifada".

The media in Lebanon too refers to developments in the aftermath of the
Rafiq Hariri assassination as "intifada of Independence".It is also called the
"Cedar Revolution" by some. Right - wing  commentators have also called  the
recent civil unrest in France as the "French Intifada" or "Paris Intifada" or
"European Intifada".

It can be seen therefore that the term "intifada" has different meanings to
different sections. To many it denotes a struggle against military occupation
and the yoke of tyranny. It conjures visions of a latter day David versus
Goliath type confrontation where the armed might of a state or an occupying
power is challenged by an inferior force making up through force of will for
what it lacks in arms and numbers. To others particularly those Western
nations subscribing to the clash of cvilisations theory the term Intifada denotes
a rebellion, anarchy, violence and de- stabilisation. The challenge posed to
the status quo is seen as something illegal with  unacceptable ethno - religious
fundamentalist underpinnings.

The Jaffna agitation  may or may not escalate into an Intifada type uprising in
the future. Whatever it may be the Jaffna  uprising is not likely to  be called
Intifada because  Tamil political discourse has its own terminology and history.
The past few years has seen many processions and mass meetings called
"pongu Thamil Eluchi" or "Rising Thamizh upsurge". The original "pongu
Thamizh" was organized by Jaffna university students against the army
presence in the North. There was covert tiger backing. Thereafter with the
ceasefire coming into force these "pongu Thamil Eluchi" rallies were
conducted in many parts of the North - East and also in International cities with
a substantial Tamil diaspora.

Unfortunately the earlier spirit of revolutionary resistance soon gave way to a
shameful display of sycophancy and adulation. The meetings became
ceremonies of mass veneration for LTTE chief Velupillai Pirapakaran. Only his
so called virtues and attributes were praised and extolled. Crowds carried his
picture and the tiger flag. The overall heroism of the Tamil people defying
overwhelming odds was ignored.The nadir of these demonstrations was the
sight of Tamil Parliamentarians carrying pictures of Pirapakaran publicly like
Hindu devotees carrying "kavadi".

Despite the distortion the "pongu Thamil Eluchi" term continues to strike a
responsive chord in the Tamil psyche. Few nationalist Tamils  can forget the
immortal lines of Tamil revolutionary poet Bharathidasan "Pongu Thamilarukku
Innal Vilaithal Sankaram Nijamendru Sange Mulangu" ( Blow O Conch,  that
destruction is certain for those doing harm to uprising Tamils) The Pongu
Thamil term itself derived popular acceptance from these lines. So the Jaffna
uprising will be rooted in its own cultural specificity and not borrow Arabic
terminology.

Besides the nature of Tamil political struggle has had a history of student
involvement for decades. The non - violent struggle of the Federal Party for
equal rights had solid student support. This was manifested openly during the
mass Satyagraha campaign of 1961 when the government administration was
paralysed for weeks. Student power made its impact in the seventies when
media wise standardization was introduced. The student demonstrations
leading to the rise of student and youth organizations resulted finally in the
rise of armed Tamil militancy.

At least two organizations the Eelam Revolutionary Organization (EROS) and
the Eelam Peoples Revolutionary Liberation Front (EPRLF) had student
movements as their primary base. These were the Eelam Revolutionary
Organization of Students and the General Union of Eelam Students
respectively.Student or youth power therefore is not something new in the
Tamil political struggle and pre - date the Intifada.

The important question however is whether the current student uprising will
gather further momentum or gradually fizzle out. It cannot be forgotten that
there were earlier demonstrations too a few years ago  over Hartley College
which subsided soon. An important countervailing factor that may prevent a
massive student uprising is the education oriented Jaffna social fabric.
Parents, teachers, community elders and above all peer pressure among
students may  act to check and curb the tendency to launch a long, violent
agitation. In Palestine mainstream schooling reached a standstill. Jaffna Tamil
culture laying great emphasis on education may not allow its student
population to turn into protesters that easily.Let us not forget that students
active in the protests are about 450 to 500 and not in their thousands.

There is also the LTTE. Just as the PLO was masterminding the first Intifada at
one stage from Tunisia the LTTE hierarchy in the Wanni is remote - controlling
developments in Jaffna. The student agitation like the attacks on the armed
forces are all part of a grand design. It is well - known that the master
puppeteer is pulling the strings from Kilinochchi while student leader puppets
dance to the rhythms of confrontation in Jaffna. It remains to be seen whether
sufficient international pressure may result in the LTTE calling off the student
protests. It also depends on what the LTTE goal is. Are the demonstrations a
firerunner of an all encompassing uprising in the future or do they serve only a
limited purpose for now?

On Thursday the students burnt effigies of the new army commander Sarath
Fonseka. It was Ariel Sharon's much publicised visit to the Israeli settlements
that triggered off the Second Intifada. Ironically the hawkish Sharon dismantled
the settlements and is now cooing like a dove. By accident or design the
Jaffna demonstrations coincided with the appointment of Sarath Fonseka as
army commander. It was  Fonseka who single handedly prevented the gradual
withdrawal of troops from the Jaffna schools in terms of the ceasefire. The
undue haste displayed by Mahinda Rajapakse in pushing Shantha Kottegoda
out and bringing in this "battlehawk" may have  been  in tiger perception like
waving a red flag to a bull.

Three points are of significance in the student agitation. Firstly it is not totally
a spontaneous, independent one. It has strong LTTE backing. Not everyone  
at the forefront of the protests are tiger agents or sympathisers but many of
the ring leaders have tiger links. Besides some amount of tiger support directly
or indirectly is necessary to sustain morale as well as for logistical purposes.
The future course of the student uprising therefore will be determined or
influenced by the LTTE.

The second point is that the Government in Colombo or international opinion
must not make the mistake  of  simply dismissing the protests as a tiger
inspired action lacking in popular support. The underlying causes behind the
student agitation has the widespread support of the student population and
the people. The security zone concept of  depriving people of their homes ,
devotees of their places of worship, breadwinners of their occupations and
students of their schools is highly autocratic and  totally unacceptable.

In a region where a high premium is placed on schooling people resent   the
military use to which their educational institutions are put to at present. Some
even see it as a "Sinhala" conspiracy to undermine Jaffna Tamil education.
Thus even if people or students do not actively participate in the uprising their
sympathies are with the agitators. Thus the agitation could be sustained for a
long time if necessary. It all depends on leadership.

The third point is that the state is being unjust and oppressive in refusing to
vacate schools or downsize the area of security zones. Reasonable opinion
among the Sinhala people must give thought to the fact that some people in
Jaffna have been chased out of their homes because of the security zones for
more than fifteen years. Students have been deprived or partially deprived of
schools for more than a decade. Let it not be forgotten that the ceasefire
agreement stipulates the vacation of schools by the armed forces.

Will the Sinhala people allow such a thing to happen in the name of security in
the Sinhala areas? Can 19 % of the land area  and 42 % of the coastline in a
Southern maritime district be maintained as a no go zone for the people for
ten years? Will the students of Royal, Ananda, St. Thomas's and Trinity etc
allow chunks of their schools to be taken over as army camps for a decade
and allow security bunds be constructed across their playing fields?

What the demonstrations are illustrating is that this whole concept of security
zones is totally unjust and immoral. If the protests continue on an Intifada like
scale it can only help expose the fact that Jaffna is under virtual army
occupation. The Palestinian intifadas  demonstrate  to the world that the Israeli
army is virtually an army of occupation and  has no "locus standi" to be in
Palestine. The Tamil uprisings also help to focus attention on the fact that the
pervasive presence of the armed forces in Jaffna is resented. It was Gladstone
who once said when speaking of Irish home rule that it was "better to concede
with grace that which you cannot hold with authority". Is there anyone listening?

Students in Jaffna:  
Photo Courtesy of HA
Displaced due to
HSZs
A Palmyrah tree
and a Banian tree
grown together in
Maruthankerni,
Thalaiyadi -
Vadamaratchchi
East
News Flash:
Student
Organizations
have announced
the protests are
being postponed
due to GCE OL
exams.
"Blow O Conch,  
that destruction is
certain for those
doing harm to
uprising Tamils"
"better to
concede with
grace that which
you cannot hold
with authority"
News Flash: Student Organizations have announced the protests are being
postponed due to GCE OL exams.