Palestine the first to recognize Indonesian independence

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A reception on the 9th of June 1947 to celebrate Egyptian recognition of Indonesian independence. From left to right: Indonesian Foreign Minister, Haji Agus Salim, Prince Faisal, the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia dan Muhammad Amin al-Husaini. (photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

IO – Palestine is a special place for it holds important religious sites for all three major Semitic religions of the world namely Islam, Christianity and Judaism which each regard it as a holy city. The great Mosque of Al Aqsa, third most holy place of worship for Muslims, where both Solomon and David worshipped, is also located in Jerusalem. Muslims believe that the Prophet Muhamad flew on a buraq ( a mythical winged creature in Islamic traditions) from Mecca to Al Aqsa Mosque and from there together with the Archan­gel Gabriel flew to heaven to pray with several of the prophets.

Nevertheless, this is not the main reason Palestine holds a special place in Indonesian hearts. Palestinians were the first to recognize Indonesian independence in 1944 – before we had even declared it. It is this unstinting support that we shall never forget. The foremost Palestinian in helping Indo­nesia achieve independence was Sheik Muhammad Amin al-Husaini.

The collapse of the Ottoman Em­pire coupled with the Treaty of Ver­sailles opened the way for Britain and France to control parts of the Middle East through a system of mandates which some argue was simply another form of colonization. Under this sys­tem the British gained control of Pal­estine and in 1917 issued the Balfour Declaration which promised the creation of a national homeland for Jews in Palestine. The principle regarding right of self-determination promoted by the League of Nations was not applied as the majority of the population of Pal­estine would have rejected Zionism and the creation of a Jewish state. Instead the British followed began a policy of allowing the mi­gration of Jews and Zionists to Pales­tine for the purpose of establishing a Jewish state. It is these factors which finally led to a radicalization of the Arab world.

A key figure in the Arab support for Indonesian independence was Mu­hammad Amin al-Husaini, the Grand Mufti of Palestine and Supreme Lead­er of the Council of Palestine. Long ago as the Grand Mufti of Palestine he already seems to have had a soft spot for Indonesia providing grants to Indonesian students studying in Cairo, Damascus, Beirut or Baghdad of two pounds sterling per person.

Al-Husaini came from a renown Palestinian family that was prominent both politically as well as economi­cally. The family actively tried to dis­suade the British from allowing Zion­ists to immigrate to Palestine with the intention of creating a Jewish state without the consent of the majority of the inhabitants of Palestine. In par­ticular Amin al-Husaini’s uncle, Musa al-Husaini tried repeatedly to per­suade the British through ceaseless diplomacy and lobbying not to allow the creation of what later became Isra­el – but to no avail. The British paid no attention to the aspirations and indeed rights of the non-Jewish population which made up the majority of the population of Pal­estine. It was then that the al-Husain­is began to struggle for Palestinian independence using more confronta­tional means. They were involved in several riots which they helped incite with inflammatory speeches. In the Palestinian riot of 1933 Musa al-Husaini was clubbed so severely by the British police that the eighty-one year old man succumbed a few months later from the grievous wounds sustained at the time.

In the end Amin al-Husaini was forced to flee to Italy in order to escape the British and French authorities. From there he went to Germany and since the beginning of the Second World War Germany offered the merchant and Grand Mufti of Palestine, protec­tion against both British colonial as well as Zionist forces. In September of 1944 he was in Berlin and on the 6th of September he announced in the Arabic language via Radio Berlin, Palestinian recognition and support for Indonesian independence. The broadcast was continuously repeat­ed for two days. Meanwhile, the daily newspaper Al-Ahram was also spread­ing the news of Palestinian recognition of Indonesian independence.

The Grand Mufti of Palestine, Muhammad Amin al-Husaini (centre) and Muhammad Ali Taher (left) with Indonesians after his escape to Cairo where he received protection from King Farouk of Egypt. (photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

Before that in 1926 King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia had held a Muslim con­gress in Mecca which gave birth to organization known as the World Muslim Congress at which Sheik Muhammad Amin al-Husaini was a leading figure and over which he eventually pre­sided. “On the 3rd of Oc­tober 1944 in his capacity as Grand Mufti of Baitul Muqadas Yerusalem and in his capacity as President of the World Muslim Congress, he sent a telegram to the then Japanese ambassador to Germany, Oshima rebuking the Japanese government for not yet giving Indonesia inde­pendence as promised by the Emper­or of Japan and imploring the then Prime Minister of Japan, Kuniki Ko­iso to decide as quickly as possible the fate of sixty million Indonesians of whom fifty million were Muslims. The World Muslim Congress pres­sured the Japanese government to give Indonesia independence. Kuniki Koiso promised that he would try to give the Indonesians their indepen­dence and his answer was recorded by the Japanese news agency Do­mei,” explained Dr Zainul Milal Bi­zawie (popularly known as Gus Milal) who has written extensively on Islam Nusantara which is an Indonesian syncretic form of Islam.

“Meanwhile, there were many In­donesians of Arabic descent who also supported the Indonesian struggle for independence and of these Kyai Haji Hasyim Asy’ari was the most import­ant for he had the widest network of ulamas or Muslim scholars and they were mostly important ulamas. He probably held the central posi­tion amongst ulamas in the world. He also communicated with other Muslim leaders all over the world and kept them informed about In­donesia’s struggle for independence. Amongst those leaders were Prince Abdul Karim al-Khatthabi of Morro­co, Sultan Pasha al-Athrasi of Syria, Dhiyauddin al-Syaairazi, Muhamad Ali and Syaukat Ali who were Muslim Indians and of course Muhammad Ali Jinnah of Pakistan,” remarked Dr Zainul Milal Bizawie.

Sheik Muhammad Amin al-Hu­saini had studied at the same Islam­ic school as Hasyim Asy’ari who was the grandfather of former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and one of the founders of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) movement in Indonesia whose membership makes it the larg­est independent Islamic organization in the world. Hasyim Asy’ari corre­sponded with al-Husaini. As also the head of the Masyumi party Hasyim Asy’ari was sent a copy of al-Husaini’s tele­gram to the Japanese prime minister. In his capacity as head of the NU and Masyumi, Hasyim Asy’ari acknowl­edged the role al-Husaini had played in pressuring the Japanese prime minster to take actions to grant In­donesia independence in accordance with the former promise of the Em­peror of Japan.

After this al-Husaini used his in­fluence to lobby other Middle East states to recognize Indonesian inde­pendence. He worked to build ties between Indonesia and Egypt and connected Indonesia to King Farouk of Egypt. Later Egypt became the first state in the world to recognize Indo­nesian independence on the 22nd of March 1946 and it also lobbied other Arab states to recognize Indonesian independence. Al Husaini lobbied two key figures of the Arab League name­ly, Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmy el-Naqrasyi and Egypt’s For­eign Minister Abdulrachman Azzam Pasya who was also the secretary general of the Arab League at that time. They in turn already had a very close relationship with Indonesian in­dependence activists in Cairo during the 1940s. On the 16th of October 1945 a meeting was held in Cairo at the building of the Islamic Youth Or­ganization that was attended by many Arab political leaders and activists including Egyptian members of par­liament, the secretary general of the Arab League, dean of the King Fouad I University, the press magnate and Arab nationalist Muhammad Ali Tha­hir, Habib Borguiba who later became President of Tunisia as well as Leba­nese and Algerian leaders and activ­ists. There it was decided to establish Lajnah al-Difa’ ‘an Istiqlal Indunisi­ya or a Committee for the Defense of Indonesian Independence which passed a 7 point resolution asking all Arab and Islamic peoples to support Indonesian independence, to discuss it in their parliaments, to formally ac­knowledge the Republic of Indonesia and to announce this to the world. They also agreed to pressure the British whose troops had arrived in Indonesia ahead of the Dutch, not to support the Dutch. Two Indone­sian students representing Indonesia were in attendance namely, Muham­mad Zein Hasan and Ismail Banda.

On the 18th of November 1946 al- Husaini telephoned Muhamad Rasjid, the then Indonesian deputy foreign minister to tell him that the Arab countries fully supported In­donesian independence. Al-Husaini then succeeded in getting Muhamad Abdulmunim Mustapha, the Egyp­tian Consul General in Bombay to go to Indonesia by private jet and meet President Soekarno on the 15th of March 1947. He brought a letter for President Soekarno stating that all the member nations of the Arab League supported Indonesian inde­pendence.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Haji Agus Salim (centre) in Cairo. (photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

After Indonesia declared indepen­dence in 1945 it received de facto international recognition but need­ed de jure international recognition. In April 1947 then Indonesian Foreign Minister Haji Agus Salim who was also leader of the Sarikat Islam (Islamic economic, social and political organization) was sent on a diplo­matic goodwill mission to the region to lobby for such recofnition. “On the 10th of June 1947 a Treaty of Friendship was signed between Indonesia and Egypt. The treaty was signed in Cairo by Naqrashi Pasha, the Egyptian Prime Minister (he was also at the time Foreign Minister) and Haji Agus Salim, the In­donesian Foreign Minister. Haji Agus Salim was accompanied by Deputy Foreign Minister Muhamad Rasjid and Information Minister Abdurrah­man Baswedan (the grandfather of current Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan). It was the first international agree­ment signed by the young Republic and very important for Indonesia. Haji Agus Salim instructed A.R. Bas­wedan to get the treaty to Sukarno even at the risk of his own life.

On the 14th of June the Dutch Am­bassador to Egypt protested the Trea­ty citing Indonesia as not yet having received independence and still being under Dutch sovereignty. He prom­ised Egypt that it would receive full Dutch support for Palestine in the United Nations if only Egypt would withdraw its recognition of Indone­sian independence,” contendeded Dr Ahmad Ginanjar Sya’ban a lecturer at the Universitas Nahdlatul Ulama who is an authority on the subject of Arab support for Indonesian indepen­dence.

“One of the requirements of ap­pearing before the United Nations was that a state must already have de jure recognition by another state in the form of a signed international agreement with that state. The Trea­ty of course, upset the Dutch govern­ment very much but when the Dutch Consul in Cairo requested a meeting with the Egyptian Prime Minister it was refused, “revealed Taher Ibrahim Hamad, the Deputy Chief of Mission at the Palestinian Embassy in Jakar­ta.

Haji Agus Salim, Indonesian Foreign Minister (right), Mahmoud Fahmy el-Naqrasyi, the Egyptian Prime Minister (centre) and A.R. Baswedan (the grandfather of Anies Baswedan, the current governor of Jakarta) witness the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between Egypt and Indonesia. (photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

The Egyptian recognition of Indo­nesian independence was followed by recognition by Lebanon on the 29th of June 1947, by Syria on the 2nd of July 1947, by Saudi Arabia on the 24th of November 1947 and by Yemen in May 1948. After the Dutch Second Military aggression in 1948 many Arab countries closed their ports and airfields to Dutch ships and planes. “Al-Husaini asked the Arab League members to raise the Indonesian flag next to their own flags in all their ports and the Suez Canal was blocked against Netherlands military ships. The Egyptians encouraged the Indonesians to take their case to the United Na­tions and they paid all the expenses of the Indonesian delegation which came to roughly US$25,000,” supplied Mr Taher.

In all of this we must also not for­get the help of a wealthy Palestinian merchant named Muhammad Ali Taher for Indonesian independence. He was a friend of al-Husaini’s who removed the bulk of his wealth in Palestine and moved it to Indone­sian banks in order to help support the Indonesian economy. He was an enormously wealthy man for that time,” further added Mr Taher.

Rizal Sukma in his book “Islam in Indonesian Foreign Policy: Domestic Weakness and the Dilemma of Dual Identity” writes that, “Indonesia’s overtures to the Middle East was not meant to provide the foundations for a foreign policy based on co-religion­ist (Islam) considerations. It was only part of a general diplomatic strategy designed to secure recognition and international endorsement for the embattled Republic.”

Mr Taher supports Rizal Sukma’s contention by further explaining that Amin al-Husaini did not help Indonesia simply because it was Muslim. He also had a great sympathy for the Vietnamese who were struggling for their independence. “In Palestine we are not struggling to create an Islamic state but a state for Muslims, Christians and Jews alike. You could in fact say, a Pancasila state!,” declared Mr Taher.

Indonesia has now been indepen­dent for more than 70 years and it pains Indonesians greatly that the Palestinians who so generously and so valiantly supported Indonesian independence still do not have an in­dependent Palestinian state. In 2017 when United States President Donald Trump an­nounced recognition of Jersusalem as the capital of Israel he encouraged Israel to continue building new set­tlements on the West Bank despite this being in contravention of United Nations resolutions and internation­al law. In Indonesian eyes he killed the peace process that for so many years Indonesia and so many oth­er countries had been trying to find for Palestine. At the time Indonesian Religious Minister, Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said that Indonesia owes a debt of gratitude to Palestine and that the issue of Palestine will continue to reside in every breath of Indonesian diplomacy.” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)