GERAK Palestine: Building a democratic, progressive and socialist force in Indonesia

Arah Juang – October 1, 2023
People's Movement for Palestine Independence rally in Jakarta – November 19, 2023 (YouTube)

Aghe Bagasatriya and Dipo Negoro – At present, the people of the world are witnessing a blatant genocide taking place before their eyes. In a period of only two months, Israel has slaughtered more than 15,000 Gaza residents, more than 8,000 of which were children, dropped more than 40,000 tons of bombs on Gaza which is only 365 square kilometres in area, and destroyed more than 278,000 homes. In the West Bank meanwhile, 3,200 Palestinian people have suffered mass arrests, armed confrontations and collective punishment.

Israeli attacks since October have even exceeded the number of causalities and destruction caused by Israel in the Nakba (disaster) in 1948. A huge disaster for all Palestinian people when more than 750,000 people were driven from their land, 15,000 Palestinians were killed and millions more were forced into two regions that have become the Palestinian territory – Gaza and the West Bank.

Gaza has became the biggest open prison in the world: the Palestinian people cannot enter and leave Gaza freely. Those who do manage to get out will never be able to return. Meanwhile the millions of Palestinians who remain in Gaza have for decades been forced to survive with only the items that Israel allows to enter through the border crossing with Egypt in the city of Rafah, and this can be closed at any time when Israel pleases. The Palestinian people in Gaza have repeatedly fallen victim to massive Israeli military operations for various fabricated reasons which are used as tests of their latest military weapons. Almost every year Israel launches massive military operations against Gaza as well as random killings at mass actions that are daily faced by the Palestinian people, such as during the Great March of Resistance border protests in 2018-19.

In the West Bank itself, the Palestinian people's lives are no less miserable. Any Palestinian that throws stones at an Israeli tank is immediately arrested and sentenced to 20 years in prison, their family is evicted and their home expropriated and demolished, then the land is seized by Israel. Palestinian people's houses are demolished one by one. Palestinian villages that were previously adjacent to each other are separated one by one and access between them closed off. Israel is dismembering the West Bank with the construction of roads and settlements specifically allocated to Israeli settlers. The Palestinian people in the West Bank cannot move freely, every day when they go to school or work they have to go through checkpoints and queue for hours to be searched, questioned and their movements recorded.

Israel's attacks on Gaza have been answered with mass actions in various parts of the world. It can be said that these demonstrations are as big, if not bigger, than the demonstration against the US imperialist invasion of Iraq in 2003. Millions of people have taken to the streets from New York to London, Seoul as well as Indonesia.

The demonstrations in Indonesia are largely dominated by right-wing Islamic groups who reinforce the fabrication that the struggle for Palestinian liberation is a religious issue. On Sunday November 5 for example, hundreds of thousands of people rallied at the National Monument (Monas) in Central Jakarta in an action initiated by Indonesia's peak Islamic body the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI). Appearing at the action were members of the political elite – from ministers to government officials, House of Representative (DPR) members and former officials.

The voice of the democratic, progressive and socialist movements on the Palestinian issue in Indonesia is still small. One of the actions launched by these forces was the GEBRAK action on November 10, which was initiated by the Socialist Union (Perserikatan Sosialis) to consolidate the democratic, progressive and socialist forces on the Palestinian issue.

The initiative began with a joint position statement which was then signed by more than 50 organisations. The statement then developed into a consolidation to launch simultaneous national actions in the name of the People's Movement for Palestinian Independence (GERAK Palestina). These national simultaneous actions were successfully launched in at least 13 cities including Jakarta, Bandung, Semarang, Yogyakarta, Bojonegoro, Balikpapan, Makassar, Ambon, Sinjai, Jayapura (Papua), Ternate, Sorong (Papua) and Ambon. Overall hundreds of people took to the streets, although the total number of protesters in each region could be said to be relatively small. However the GERAK Palestine actions were the first time that democratic, progressive and socialist organisations had attempted to consolidate, raise their voices and launch actions nationally.

But what is meant by a democratic, progressive or socialist voice on the Palestinian issue? First and foremost, we affirm the right of the Palestinian people to defend themselves. We see that what happened on October 7 as part of the Palestinian people's struggle to defend themselves in the face of the long history of Israeli Zionist colonialism.

GERAK Palestine also emphasises its support for a one-state solution, namely a Palestine state that is secular, just, democratic and independent. This is different from the actions dominated by right-wing and religious groups. The action initiated by the MUI was also attended by government officials including several major religious organisations in Indonesia. The excitement, the size of the action and the spirit of solidarity for Palestine was overshadowed by the key solutions put forward by the MUI and the regime of President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo. Both the MUI and the Widodo regime advocate a two state solution (as distinct from a one state solution).

In a sermon on the issue, the MUI said, "The MUI supports all forms of efforts for the Palestinian nation to be independent, sovereign, for the sake of realising a sense of humanity that is just and civilised. One of these peaceful efforts should be based on the UN resolution for a two country solution, or a two state solution. Therefore, the war must be stopped and all troops withdrawn. Israel must also give full rights to the Palestinian nation as a sovereign and independent nation. No country should be allowed to provoke the continuation of the war to support Zionism in annexing Palestinian territory".

President Widodo, who met with US President Joe Biden, emphasised that the meeting was to deliver a message from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Conference in Riyadh on the horrors occurring in Gaza. Included in the OIC resolution was: encouraging the start of the real and genuine peace process to achieve peace based on a two country solution. US officials said Biden would for his part urge Indonesia to take a "bigger role" in resolving the Israeli-Hamas conflict. The official said this included "the problem of a ceasefire" but also long-term goals such as a two country solution after the war and rebuilding the destroyed Gaza Strip.

The two state solution is the core of the 1993 Oslo Agreement, signed by the then president of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasser Arafat. But the "peace process" that was pursued following the agreement shows that the two country solution has failed. Three decades on, Israel continues to carry out sabotage that is destroying any hope of "peace". Meanwhile the Palestinian Authority (PA) takes responsibility for regulating and maintaining order among the Palestinian people under the occupation.

Israeli settlements continue to expand. As of January 2023 there were 144 Israeli settlements in the West Bank, including 12 in East Jerusalem. In addition to this there are more than 100 illegal front-line Israel posts in the West Bank. Overall there are more than 500 thousand settlers living in the West Bank not including East Jerusalem, plus an additional 220 thousand Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Beyond this there are also Israeli citizens living in settlements in the Golan Highlands. Palestinian land and houses are seized so that new Israeli settlements can be built.

It can be seen that the construction of these settlements assists the security of the Israeli state. Israeli settlements are a buffer for Israel's national security because it limits the Palestinian people's movements and weakens the continuity of the Palestinian state. Any Palestinian territory that remains standing on land that has not yet been seized is fragmented and fully under Israeli military control.

GERAK Palestine has also declared its support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israeli. We also emphasise that the Indonesian government should cut all indirect diplomatic, economic and political ties with Zionist Israel and Zionist bodies.

Although Indonesia has no formal diplomatic relations with Israel, trade relations have strengthened over the last five years. This can be seen from the increase in the value of Indonesian-Israel's exports and imports over the period 2018-2022. According to data from the Ministry of Trade, the total value of Indonesian exports to Israel reached US$185.6 million in 2022, an increase of 14 percent compared with the previous year (year-on-year). The total value of imports from Israel also rose by 80 percent (yoy) to US$47.8 million. If viewed cumulatively, during the period 2018-2022 the value of Indonesia's exports to Israel grew by around 11 percent while the imports grew by 0.9 percent.

Moreover even in the midst of global condemnation of Israel's attacks on Gaza and the call for a boycott of Israeli products, the value of Indonesia's imports actually increased. Based on National Statistics Agency (BPS) data, imports from Israel in October 2023 alone reached US$2,532,695. This figure was an increase on imports in September which stood at US$999,431.

Imports in October were dominated by machinery and mechanical aircraft whose value reached US$734,786. The number of imported commodities in October increased almost five times compared with September with a value of US$142,690. Furthermore, engine commodities and electrical equipment also dominated Indonesia's imports from Israel which were valued at US$718,054. Again, this figure was an increase compared to imports for September which were only US$124,392. In third place were tools and cutting devices worth US$316,759. The figure for these imported commodities declined compared with September, namely US$390,001.

In addition, GERAK Palestine also calls for an end to the genocide in Gaza and oppression in the West Bank. This is urgent and is desperately needed by the Palestinian people. It also calls for the imperialist countries of the US, the European Union and Australia to stop providing financial support, military aid and technology to Zionist Israel.

The dominance of right-wing groups and the rhetoric of solidarity from Indonesia's political elite has retarded the development of the solidarity movement for Palestine in Indonesia. The people can feel that there is no need to launch massive and continuous mobilisations because solidarity for Palestine is being effectively carried out by the political elite. Therefore it is important to raise the demands for a one state solution, for a Palestine state that is secular, democratic and independent.

Aside from this, GERAK Palestine also needs to start intervening in actions dominated by right-wing groups. This intervention does not mean merging into these actions, but rather to raise a democratic, progressive and socialist voice. That way the masses that are taking to the streets on the basis of humanity or solidarity can be drawn into the "ranks" of a democratic, progressive and socialist leadership. Socialists well recognise the united front tactic with the term "attacking together, marching separately". This also means it needs "ranks" of democratic, progressive and socialist groups. It must also include stronger propaganda work to reinforce democratic, progressive and socialist voices on the Palestinian issue.

In the future, GERAK Palestine plans to consolidate trade unions to stand in solidarity with the calls by Palestinian trade unions to launch boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel. This will also include consolidating legal institutions and advocates to encourage filing a demand that the Israeli prime minister and all parties involved be tried by the International Criminal Court for war crimes.

An ongoing struggle by GERAK Palestine is what is needed and will be able to strengthen and consolidate the democratic, progressive and socialist movement on the issue of the struggle for Palestinian liberation.

-- Aghe Bagasatriya and Dipo Negoro are leading members of the Socialist Union (Perserikatan Sosialis).

[Translated by James Balowski. The original title of the article was "Gerakan Rakyat untuk Kemerdekaan (GERAK) Palestina: Upaya membangun kekuatan demokratis, progresif serta sosialis dalam isu Palestina di Indonesia".]

Source; Arah Juang print edition Number 162 minggu I-II Oktober 2023