Waging a Jihad for Peace
Now is not the time to remain silent

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Jakarta, IO – The horrific and unprecedented terror attacks of Hamas left the world sickened and sad. The Hamas October 7th slaughter of innocent men, women, children and old people left 1300 civilians and soldiers dead and 3300 wounded. President Biden described it as a campaign of pure cruelty. “Not just hate but pure cruelty… and I would argue that for Jews it is the deadliest day since the Holocaust.”

Israel’s retaliation however, has left many not just concerned but deeply distressed that Israel is going too far. What we have seen in the past week is Gaza under siege and bombardment by Israel. More than 800 Palestinian children have died in Gaza as well as more than 2000 men and women – with the numbers increasing every day. Nine thousand six hundred Palestinians have been injured and one thousand are reported missing. Israel cut off electricity and water to Gaza also not allowing in food or fuel. Last week Friday, Israeli military forces ordered 1.1 million people in Northern Gaza to evacuate within 24 hours.

The UN said that it would be impossible to evacuate such a number of civilians. It warned of devastating humanitarian consequences and strongly appealed for any such order to be rescinded as the consequences could transform what is already a tragedy into a calamitous humanitarian situation.

A quarter of a million people have been evacuated to UN shelters that lack food, water and electricity but for most of the population there is nowhere to go and many experience bombing as they try to flee. So far 600,000 people have fled south. Hospitals have been bombed and humanitarian convoys waiting in Egypt have been refused entry. Southern Gaza has also been bombed. At the Indonesian hospital in Gaza the morgue is over-flowing with dead bodies which are simply being stacked on top of each other on the floor.

The Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor said last week that Israel had turned Gaza into “a hellhole”, with at least 14 Palestinians getting killed every hour. The Israeli Defence Force (IDF) dropped at least 6,000 bombs on the densely populated Gaza area which is equivalent to a quarter of a nuclear bomb.

The Israeli Minister of Defence, Yoav Gallant said, “We are imposing a complete siege on Gaza. No electricity, no food, no water, no fuel. We are fighting human animals and we will act accordingly.”

Such actions are in contravention of the Geneva Convention of 1949 which all 196 UN member states and two observer states have ratified and which came into existence a year after the creation of Israel. Since Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has declared this to be a war and not a military operation, the Geneva Convention applies. British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak reacted to the October 7th attack by saying that Israel has an absolute right to defend itself. The Geneva Convention of 1949 however, does not allow any nation an absolute right of self-defence. It provides that acts of self-defence must always be conditional and qualified. The doctrine of proportionality applies in every war.

While all this has been happening, most world leaders have remained silent. Irish Prime Minster Leo Varadkar has been one of the few world leaders to openly speak up against Israel’s actions in Gaza.  “While Israel had a right to defend itself, it must be in accordance with the Geneva Convention and that means, in our view, that there cannot be collective punishment of the entire civilian population in Gaza. And also, fundamentals like food, fuel, electricity must be allowed for the populace. Because there is nowhere to go.”

Ireland has 342 UN peace-keeping troops in Lebanon where it has had troops for the last 40 years. Varadkar said that there was “no moral equivalence” between the Hamas attacks which killed over 1,000 people in Israel and the Israeli response in recent days. While Israel had a right to defend itself, Mr Varadkar was concerned that its response would be “disproportionate”, with many Palestinian civilians killed. “Attacks on civilians are always wrong. They constitute war crimes.

Israel dropped thousands of flyers over northern Gaza and left voice messages on Friday directing people to leave their homes and flee south. One hospital was given two hours warning to evacuate before being bombed. However, such warnings are not considered a defence for such actions. The IRA used to issue warnings before setting off bombs and Boko Haram also issued warnings. “Ordering a million people in Gaza to evacuate, when there’s no safe place to go, is not an effective warning,” Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor to Human Rights Watch, said in a statement.

It goes without saying that the deliberate targeting and brutal torture and murder of Israeli civilians on October 7th was an abhorrent and appalling violation of international humanitarian law by Hamas; as was also the taking of hostages by them. However, when Israeli Minister of Energy states that no electrical switch will be switched on, no water will be turned on, no fuel will be entering Gaza until Hamas releases its hostages, Israel is punishing and holding hostage ordinary Palestinians.

On Friday, Israeli President, Isaac Herzog said at a press conference, “It is an entire nation out there that is responsible. It is not true this rhetoric about civilians not being aware, not involved. It’s absolutely not true. They could have risen up. They could have fought against that evil regime which took over Gaza in a coup d’etat.”

Targeting civilians by bombing their homes, schools and hospitals is a war crime as is administering collective punishment or forcing mass exodus from an area or using highly flammable white phosphorus munitions. If one uses President Herzog’s arguments, the whole Israeli nation would be responsible for such war crimes.

Indonesia has a special relationship to Palestinians. They were the first to recognize Indonesian independence. During our struggle for independence, Indonesia had de facto recognition of its existence as a state but what it really needed was de jure recognition. It was the Grand Mufti of Palestine, Muhammad Amin al-Husaini who persuaded other Middle Eastern states to recognize Indonesian independence with Egypt being the first nation to recognize Indonesian independence on the 22nd of March 1946. Other Arab nations quickly followed suit. Indonesia owes Palestinians a debt of honour and it has never forgotten this. So, what has been the reaction of the Indonesian government to the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?

President Joko Widodo, in his address on the 10th of October, urged both sides to stop the conflict, deescalate the tensions, and ordered the Foreign Ministry to protect Indonesian nationals currently in Palestine and Israel while the Foreign Ministry urged an immediate end to violence and called for the occupation of Palestinian territories by Israel as the root of the conflict, to be resolved in accordance with the parameters agreed upon by the United Nations.

Former head of Indonesia’s Human Rights Commission, Marzuki Darusman says that he is disappointed with the President’s reaction to the Gaza humanitarian crisis. “The President should declare that Indonesia stands by the Palestinian people and he should emphasize for the Indonesian public that the Indonesian government will be actively seeking a two-state solution together with likeminded member states. Indonesia must act to get the discussion and debate in the UN on the two-state solution for Palestine to recommence. We should be sending and helping to organize humanitarian aid for the people of Gaza and we should make this very visible to the world.”

Former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa says that expressions of concern are not enough. Indonesia has the means to do far more diplomatic heavy lifting as it has a number of modalities and forums that it can galvanize in its diplomatic tool box. These should be used in a concerted way with likeminded states in order to create a diplomatic surge to help the Palestinians. He says, “Now is the time for our government to really be waging peace!”

With regard to the Palestinian crisis in Gaza, the most important international forum that Indonesia has access to at the moment is the Summit meeting of ASEAN and the Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC, tomorrow (18th October 2023) in Riyadh. The GCC is a regional, intergovernmental, political, and economic union comprising Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. While at present, Indonesia holds the Chair of ASEAN.

Natalegawa states that it does not meet Indonesia’s standing and stature as a nation to only make expressions of concern and appeal for restraint. He says that at the ASEAN-GCC summit we should not merely be commentators but have the diplomatic means to make things happen. “Indonesia should be lobbying and encouraging ASEAN and the GCC to speak with one voice. We should be calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza and the means to ensure compliance with that ceasefire such as for example sending peacekeeping forces. States attending the summit should not only provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza but also push for that aid to be allowed to enter Gaza to reach the Palestinian population. Israel is currently committing heinous punishment of Palestinians and when it commits violations of human rights or of humanitarian law than it must be held accountable and the same applies to Hamas. Finally, Indonesia must push for a revival of the peace process which has been stuck for the last ten years.”

He went on to say that the government needs to have a blue print in its support for Palestine and that Indonesia must fight for joint statements for these aims in other forums as well, such as in ASEAN, the OIC, the Non-Aligned Movement and at the UN Human Rights Council of which we are a member. Currently, the G20 is being chaired by India which we are close to as we also are to China and Saudi Arabia and we should be using diplomatic tools to obtain support from the G20 nations. Finally, Indonesia could call for an emergency session of the UN assembly.

Perhaps, the only country that truly has the power to persuade Israel to a course of action or to desist from one is the United States and with America too, Indonesia has a good relationship. During our struggle for independence, the United States actually put aside the interests of its ally the Netherlands and threatened to withhold Marshall Plan funds if they did grant us independence. During the tsunami in Aceh, it was the United States that within days had sent 58 helicopters to drop one million gallons of water and half a million tons of food on Aceh, thereby saving thousands of more lives. Indonesia must add its diplomatic skills to that of Middle Eastern states to persuade the United States not to allow Israel to create a humanitarian calamity in Gaza.

Australian sociologist, Kevin Evans who has worked both in Palestine as well as Afghanistan says that a revival of negotiations for a two-state system will be difficult as there is no longer enough land left for the Palestinians to make a state. In the beginning the Palestinians were never given the right of self-determination that is stated in the UN Charter. Had they been given this Israel would most likely not have been created as the Muslim and Christian Palestinians made up the majority of the population and they wanted a free and independent Palestine for Muslims, Jews and Christians alike.

However, through force of arms the Zionists were able to create the state of Israel. In 1947 the UN agreed to the partitioning of Palestine. Due to sympathy for Jews after the Holocaust, a strong Jewish lobby in Washington and force of arms, the Jews who made up 33% of the population and owned about 6-7% of the land, were given 61% of the territory. This of course, left the Muslim Palestinians dissatisfied and there ensued several wars. After 1967, the Palestinian territory had dwindled to only the West Bank and Gaza and a few small Arab settlements outside this in what had become Israeli territory.

By now the Palestinians are left with only about 22 % of the original land that they would have received under the 1947 UN partition. In that 22% of land, the Israel government allowed 100 Jewish settlements to be established which means more than 500,000 Jewish people settling in the West Bank. There is no longer any contiguous zone of Palestinian land for them to set up a country. In order to create a Palestinian state Israel would need to give back some of the land it took from the Palestinians and dismantle illegal settlements that it allowed on the West Bank which in the present highly charged atmosphere seems highly unlikely.

And yet, the biggest problem that blocks peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians may not even be the land issues but perhaps the fact that both the Israelis as well as the Palestinians are a traumatized people. It is not only individuals that may be traumatized but also a people collectively. The Jews have had the Holocaust whereas the Palestinians have had the Nakba (the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and their permanent displacement). They are both identity-defining traumas which have led to a victim mentality and as we have seen with Germany between the two world wars, such a mentality opens the door to repressive governments with cognitive dissonance which makes communication impossible and ultimately leads to acts of violence where the other is no longer seen as human.

Is there any way of overcoming this bearing in mind the years of futile effort that have been put in to achieving a peace process? Kevin Evans sees a glimmer of hope in that at the end of this terrible ordeal and all the appalling events that have occurred and are still occurring, the leadership of both sides which have become very extreme and repressive will be changed to more moderate and flexible leadership and that both the Israeli and the Palestinian people will come to realize that a change of course is needed in order to build a lasting peace.

Clearly, the United States holds an extremely important role here and President Biden has already taken some very wise steps. As with most traumatized peoples, there is basically an extreme sense of fear on both sides. In this light, President Biden’s assurances to Israel that the United States has its back so that it will never cease to exist as a nation, while at the same time reassuring the Palestinians that a path must open from all this for the creation of a Palestinian state, is only to be praised.

He then went to Israel and met with Prime Minister Netanyahu and followed this up with visits to the Palestinian President and other Middle Eastern leaders allowing all sides to express their fear and anger and listened to them. And then finally, spoke to Israel that despite the terrible actions of Hamas, it cannot violate humanitarian laws; that the water and electricity must be switched back on, that food and humanitarian aid must be allowed to reach the Palestinians in Gaza and that safe zones must be created for them. These are the actions of a true statesman.

America experienced the defeat of Germany during the First World War, Germany’s humiliation thereafter and then its rise again during the Second World War and drew some very important lessons. It did not repeat the same mistakes after the Second World War and this places the United States, in a very special position of understanding that lasting peace is not created by a Just War but rather by a Just Peace. America is probably the nation best placed to convince both the Israelis and the Palestinians of the truth of this message – and to help them to accomplish it. In doing so – and especially if it succeeds – America strengthens and reaffirms its position as leader of the free world.

In this, other nations also have crucial roles to play in ensuring that such a peace process succeeds especially a country such as Indonesia where compromise and negotiations and reaching a fair consensus has always been such an important element of its culture.  It should collaborate with like-minded nations who truly want to see peace in the Middle East to really push for peace. A lot of course, depends on what happens in the following weeks but if these terrible events can be used by the world to carry out a jihad for peace, the tremendous loss of life and suffering will not have been completely in vain. Now is definitely not the time to remain silent but rather as former Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa put it, “Now is the time to wage peace!” (Tamalia Alisjahbana)

If you enjoyed reading this article you may enjoy reading more on this topic by the same writer:

– Terrorism in Palestine : https://observerid.com/terrorism-in-palestine/