Australia/Israel Review

Asia Watch: Signing On

Nov 24, 2008 | Michael Shannon

Michael Shannon

Signing On

Indonesia continues to play an intriguing role in Israeli-Palestinian matters, issuing the time-honoured declarations of support for Palestinian self-determination and condemnations of Israeli conduct, while at the same time developing further unofficial links with the Jewish state.

In the latest instance, Indonesia reaffirmed its support for Palestinian independence and pledged to mobilise humanitarian aid, particularly in capacity building, during a conference jointly organised by the Jakarta-based National Commission for Palestinian People and the Indonesian Humanitarian Committee that began October 31 in Jakarta.

Speaking at the International Humanitarian Conference on Assistance for Victims of Occupation, Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda said Indonesia had consistently condemned the Israeli occupation.

“Indonesia’s position in this matter is crystal clear. We support Palestine’s struggle. It’s a matter of principle and a moral as well as constitutional obligation,” he said. “We will continue not recognising Israel until the Palestinian people have achieved a sovereign state in their own homeland with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital.”

Wirayuda cited Indonesia’s participation in the New Asian-African Strategic Partnership (NAASP) in Jakarta last July that launched efforts to generate capacity building projects for 10,000 Palestinians over a period of five years. The projects cover the three sectors of governance, infrastructure and socio-cultural development.

The three-day conference brought together 300 national and international NGOs from 26 countries. Conference members agreed to establish an umbrella organisation to unite all NGOs active in humanitarian aid for the Palestinians.

“The organisation will have its permanent secretariat in Jakarta because Indonesia has shown its consistent commitment to support Palestine. The organisation will also hold annual meetings for project follow-up,” said Suripto, a delegate from the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS).

Meanwhile, in faraway Tel Aviv, the chairman of Indonesia’s 118 Emergency Ambulance Service Foundation and the Indonesian College of Surgeons, Prof. Aryono Pusponegoro, signed a medical cooperation agreement on October 30 with representatives of Magen David Adom (MDA), witnessed by representatives of Muhammadiyah and the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC).

The US$200,000 agreement (to be funded by outside organisations) will lead to the training of Indonesian medics and paramedics in Israel as well as Indonesia, with a particular focus on dealing with mass casualty events such as the tsunami that devastated Sumatra in December 2004.

The Indonesian doctors’ visit was preceded by a group of 23 Indonesian doctors and paramedics who participated in a two-week MDA workshop in Israel in June.

The presence of 76-year-old Muhammadiyah deputy Chairman Dr. Sudibyo Markus at the signing was notable. Muhammadiyah is Indonesia’s second largest Muslim organisation with some 30 million members and runs dozens of clinics, hospitals, orphanages, schools and universities across Indonesia. Dr. Sudibyo said the agreement was made because Israel is home to some of the world’s leading experts in medical emergencies.

MDA Executive Committee Chairman Dr. Noam Yifrach noted that the visit would have been impossible if the International Committee of the Red Cross had not made MDA a recognised and equal member of the Red Cross Movement, upgrading its observer status two years ago.

Exchange visits between Indonesia and Israel are still rare events, since the two countries have no diplomatic ties, but the doctors see encouraging signs. “When there are people-to-people interactions, and personal relationships being built, things start happening,” Dr. Aryono told the Jakarta Post. “This is how you make peace. As soon as politics comes into it… the whole thing falls apart,” Dr. Yifrach was quoted as saying. “I believe this could lead to a process of eventual diplomatic relations between the two countries,” he added.

Most attention, however, was firmly focussed on the execution of three Bali bombers on November 8. Indonesia was on high alert for terrorist attacks and mob violence, as hundreds of hardline followers gathered in the bombers’ home villages in east and west Java to bury the men responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings.

Yet, an array of Islamic figures was quick to condemn them. The head of Indonesia’s top Islamic body, the Majelis Ulama Indonesia (MUI), denounced Amrozi, his brother Mukhlas and Imam Samudra, saying they have not died as martyrs, as the three wished.

“To die as a martyr is impossible – people who kill cannot be said to be martyrs unless it is war,” MUI head Umar Shihab told “We are in peace and what they did, they killed Muslims.”

Even Hasan al-Jufri, from the strident Muslim Defenders Front (FPI), was undisturbed by the trio’s fate. “I absolutely have no objection (to their executions),” the Jakarta-based activist told the Australian before the executions. “They confused jihad with terror. What they engaged in was terror, not jihad. Jihad is part of our faith; if we are attacked, only then can we return the attack.”

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