A protest in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Tuesday drew several hundred people, including representatives from faith organizations in opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza. The protest was organized by the World Fellowship of Buddhists, an international organization founded in 1950 in Colombo with representatives from 27 nations.
Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, and Muslim leaders were present at the rally, along with residents of the Sri Lankan capital. Together, they chanted, “Free, free Palestine,” while holding banners reading, “Stop the massacre,” “Stop bombing Gaza,” and “Pray for Gaza,” along with Palestinian flags. (Arab News)
Dr. Sudath Dewapura, president of the Sri Lanka chapter of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, said that all those who joined the protest could “no longer bear” the killing of innocent civilians as Israel’s war on Gaza entered its fourth week: “All the Muslims, Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, everybody here today, everybody wants to stop the war,” Dr. Dewapura said. “They must stop the war.” (Arab News)
The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have cut off most travel in and out of Gaza since the militant group Hamas launched a coordinated terrorist attack on Israel on 7 October, leading to the deaths of more than 1,400 people. Since that time, the IDF has led a massive bombing campaign along with limited ground invasions that have led to over 8,000 deaths in Gaza, according to the health authorities there, who added that nearly half of those killed in Gaza were children.
“More than 420 children are being killed or injured in Gaza each day—a number which should shake each of us to our core,” said UNICEF executive director Catherine Russell. (Al Jazeera)
After the protest, organizers submitted a request for further action to the UN office in Colombo.
“I feel very strongly about what is happening there,” said Br. Lionel Peiris, a Franciscan from the Anglican Church in Colombo. Br. Peiris was part of a World Council of Churches fact-finding mission to report on the structural injustice and abuse of Palestinians by Israel. “It is a racist state that practices apartheid, which does not allow Palestinians to have their rights,” he told the newspaper Arab News. “Their lands have been taken from them, their water has been taken from them, their livelihood, their orchards. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.” (Arab News)
Br. Peiris told reporters that he took part in the rally in Colombo in the hope that his presence would add to voices from all over the world: “The world has got to stand for justice and truth, and for fairness.” (Arab News)
Br. Peiris was among a number of faith leaders who met directly with Palestine’s ambassador in Sri Lanka last week to show solidarity with the people of Palestine.
Shreen Abdul Saroor, a women’s rights activist in Sri Lanka and one of the protest organizers, said that the rally in Colombo in solidarity with Palestinians, who have faced “systematic annihilation of their culture, their territory, their homeland, their right to life,” drew interfaith support. (Arab News)
“All these things in the last 75 years have been taken away by Israel,” Saroor added, as she asked for further interfaith support to “ensure that Palestinians have the right to their homeland, and to call for an immediate ceasefire, and put an end to this brutal war right now.” (Arab News)
In an interview with reporters, Dr. Fathima Shameera said: “Children are not the terrorists. Why are you killing the children? Think of the Palestinians who are dying.” (Arab News)
Buddhism is legally recognized as the state religion of Sri Lanka, a country of some 22 million people. According to 2012 census data, 70.2 per cent of Sri Lankans identify as Theravada Buddhists, with 12.6 per cent claiming Hinduism as their religion, 9.7 per cent identifying as Muslim, and 7.4 per cent identifying as Christians. Buddhism is afforded many special privileges under Sri Lanka’s constitution, although the constitution stipulates freedom of religion for all citizens.
Buddhists hold interfaith protest in Colombo to stop Israel’s war on Gaza (Arab News)
‘Despair’: UN deplores Gaza conditions, child casualties amid Israeli war (Al Jazeera)
SL’s peace-religious groups Showing a lion heart for battered Palestine (Daily Mirror)
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