COLOMBO: Thousands of Sri Lankans across different faiths and the political spectrum gathered for a peace conference in Colombo on Tuesday, as they called for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.
Sri Lankans have held several protests in solidarity with Palestine since the beginning of Israel’s daily bombardment of Gaza on Oct. 7 in retaliation for an attack by the Gaza-based militant group Hamas.
The Israeli death toll stood at around 1,400 one month later, while more than 10,000 Palestinians — over 40 percent of whom are children – have been killed.
On Tuesday, support for Palestine was overflowing in Colombo’s Hyde Park, which has been a focal point for major protests in Sri Lanka, as at least 2,000 people withstood the pouring rain.
“This is our solidarity and this is how we express our humanity. And this can happen to anyone, so we are here, we are speaking, we are actually voicing, so that this shouldn’t happen to any other people in the world,” Arkam Nooramith, secretary-general of the All Ceylon Jamiyyathul Ulama, told Arab News ahead of the event.
Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and Hindu leaders, members of Parliament, and a number of prominent Sri Lankan political figures took part and delivered speeches at the gathering organized by the Colombo-based We Are One coalition of civil society organizations.
“We are also a small nation, so it is a responsibility of big brothers, the big nations and the UN to come forward and to stand with the people who are oppressed,” Nooramith said.
“We are here for the people of Palestine … and the oppression and the genocide should stop immediately and we are calling for a ceasefire immediately.”
In Sri Lanka, people across the political spectrum came together to speak up for Palestine.
“Majority (of) the political parties are participating for this meeting, for this Palestinian cause. If we have an internal difference, we keep that on the side. Regarding the Palestinian issue, we all stand for (a) free Palestine. So, we will continue to support,” Mujibur Rahuman, former member of the Sri Lankan Parliament, told Arab News.
Israeli air strikes have hit hospitals, ambulances, schools and refugee camps since last month, as Tel Aviv cut off food, fuel, water and power supplies to the densely populated enclave that is home to around 2.3 million people.
“They are living human beings like us. And we being in Sri Lanka, we are living peacefully, happily here, but we want Palestinians to live in their own right in their own land, but nobody’s bothered about it,” Shiraz Younus, a leader of the Muslim community Memon, told Arab News.
“We appeal to the Arab nations to get together and do something quick, as soon as possible.”
For Shabnam Muzammil, a senior Sri Lankan journalist, being part of such events is “the very least we can do.”
Muzammil told Arab News: “As humanity, we have failed them. Our governments have failed them.
“They said never again when the Holocaust happened, and right before our eyes we see it happening again. It is time now that our governments step up and call for an immediate ceasefire to stop the atrocities in Gaza.”