Indonesia, Malaysia Demand Urgent Action to Protect Palestinians

Hadi Azmi and Tria Dianti
Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta
Indonesia, Malaysia Demand Urgent Action to Protect Palestinians An Indonesian woman wears a face mask, designed in the likeness of the Palestinian flag, to curb the spread of COVID-19, while praying on Eid al-Fitr at the Great Mosque of Al Azhar, Jakarta, May 13, 2021.

Muslim-majority countries in Southeast Asia are clamoring for the international community to intervene to help end violence against Palestinian civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, as the death toll mounts from Israeli airstrikes and Hamas rocket attacks after more than a week of fighting.

Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei attended a crisis meeting convened by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Sunday and, separately, released a joint statement urging the United Nations Security Council “to act urgently and take all possible measures” to guarantee the safety of Palestinian civilians.

The three neighboring countries also called for the U.N. General Assembly to hold an emergency session on the Mid-East crisis, which has seen at least 201 Palestinians and 10 Israelis killed since hostilities flared on May 10, according to Reuters.

The 193-member body is set to do so on Thursday, officials said Monday.

“We unreservedly condemn the flagrant violations of international law, including humanitarian and human rights law, perpetrated by Israel, the Occupying Power, through its inhumane, colonial and apartheid policies toward the Palestinians … and therefore call for an urgent and responsible collective action,” said Sunday’s statement, signed by Indonesian President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, and Brunei Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

Meanwhile, in Bangladesh – a Muslim-majority South Asian country where hundreds of people demonstrated in support of Palestinians after Friday prayers in Dhaka – State Minister for Foreign Affairs Md. Shahriar Alam brought up their plight in talks with U.S. Ambassador Earl Miller on Monday.

Alam “reiterated Bangladesh’s position that the U.N. Security Council needs to take up the issue,” a Bangladesh Foreign Ministry statement said. “He urged the U.S. to take a proactive role for stopping the bloodshed immediately.”

US diplomacy

The United States, a staunch ally of Israel, so far has blocked any statement by the U.N. Security Council on the Israeli-Palestinian hostilities.

American government officials say they are working feverishly to negotiate an end to the violence, by placing multiple calls to leaders of neighboring countries and dispatching a special envoy who has already met with both Israeli and Palestinian officials.

Violence continued to rage Monday, with the Israeli military bombing what it said were underground tunnels used by Hamas and nine residences of the Palestinian group’s high-ranking commanders. Hamas and a related group, Islamic Jihad, fired rockets into the Israeli coastal city of Ashdod, according to media reports.

Indonesia and Malaysia – which are among countries that do not recognize the Jewish State – did not mention Palestinian rocket attacks in their statements.

And while the United States lists Hamas as a foreign terrorist organization, Malaysia’s Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah last week reprimanded journalists at state-run broadcaster RTM who had described the Palestinian fighters as “militants,” according to The Malay Mail, a local media outlet.

On Saturday, Malaysian Home Minister Hamzah Zainudin said police and other agencies had boosted security “to maintain public peace and safety of the Malaysian people, including Palestinian nationals that are in the country.”

And CyberSecurity Malaysia, an agency under the Communications and Multimedia Ministry, admonished netizens on Monday “to practice positive, ethical, and responsible behavior” – after what one analyst described as “troll attacks” on Israeli accounts, including those of the Israel Defense Forces.

Malaysian tempers flared due to a viral video from a “YouTube conspiracy channel” stating that Israel would attack countries friendly to Hamas, including Malaysia, said Hoo Chiew-Ping, a senior lecturer in international relations at the National University of Malaysia (UKM).

“Because of that, everyone from the highest office – Prime Minister’s Office – to the Armed Forces, academic institutions, and laypeople in Malaysia – has to up their cyber defense and cyber security precautions,” she said.

“My response to this is that Malaysia should do better to read news more carefully and use credible sources,” Hoo told BenarNews.

General Assembly vote ‘cannot be vetoed’

In January 2020, Mahathir Mohamad, Malaysia’s prime minister at the time, hosted Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh – considered a terrorist by the United States and Israel – at Putrajaya, the seat of the Malaysian government.

In April 2018, a Palestinian engineer named Fadi Mohamad Al Batsh, who was allegedly linked to Hamas, was gunned down in Kuala Lumpur. According to reports in the Israeli press, he was killed by the Mossad, Israel’s national intelligence service.

“There is a real risk for the Palestinians in Malaysia and elsewhere, but not in the fashion as highlighted in the viral video,” Hoo said.

Kamal Affendy, a criminologist at the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation, concurred.

“[W]e are talking about a specific and targeted repercussion, not for the 33 million Malaysians in general,” he said. “Any countries can employ the use of sleeper agents, who are plenty in any nation. It is not necessary for them to bring in their own operatives to get a job done.”

In Indonesia, a Middle East expert played down domestic repercussions from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The only impact is likely to be demonstrations in front of the embassies of countries that support Israel, cyber-attacks, heated exchanges on social media and a boycott of [Israeli] products,” Reza Widyarsa of the Raja Ali Haji Maritime University in Riau Islands province, told BenarNews.

He urged Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation – to put pressure on Israel at the U.N. General Assembly. 

“In the Security Council, there will be a veto by the countries that support Israel. The issue must be brought to the General Assembly because the vote cannot be vetoed,” he said.

Pulack Ghatack in Dhaka contributed to this report.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.