Perspectives from the Global South: Indonesia’s Enduring Solidarity with Palestine

Since the beginning of Israel’s invasion of Gaza, Indonesia has shown a strong sense of solidarity towards Palestine. Indonesia strongly condemned the invasion and co-sponsored draft resolutions calling for a ceasefire at the United Nations General Assembly. Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi went to Jordan and Saudi Arabia and actively pushed the Organization of Islamic Cooperation to support the ceasefire.

The support is also running high among civil society. On 5 November, Indonesian citizens, along with government officials and major political parties, organized a massive interfaith rally in support of Palestine in Jakarta. Similar rallies were organized in other cities. Liberal-leaning media, like The Jakarta Post, have also backed the Palestinian cause, along with many intellectuals in the country.

Indonesia’s support for Palestine has a long history, with Jakarta never officially recognizing Israel nor establishing diplomatic relations with it, although there are limited relations in trade and tourism between the two countries. In 1958, Indonesia refused to play against Israel in a World Cup Qualification football match. In 1962, when Indonesia was hosting the Asian Games, then President Soekarno refused to grant entry visas to Israeli athletes. More recently, Indonesia lost its host status for the U-20 World Cup when several prominent Indonesian governors – including Central Java Governor and current Presidential Candidate Ganjar Pranowo – rejected Israeli participation.

Perhaps the most prominent symbol of Indonesia’s support for residents of Gaza, however, is the Indonesia Hospital in the northern end of the Gaza Strip. The hospital, whose construction in the past decade was funded by Indonesian donations, has been subsequently bombed by Israel amid the war.

The first narrative shaping Indonesian support for Palestine is anti-colonialism. Indonesia sees the Palestinian Question through the lens of self-determination, and how the Palestinians have been denied this right since the end of the British Mandate in 1948. Israel’s military occupation over the Palestinian territories, which was consolidated after the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, has been viewed as an ongoing practice of colonialism, coupled with apartheid policies in the occupied territories.

This anti-colonial narrative shapes the Indonesian government's responses to Israel’s invasion of Gaza. Indonesia has consistently emphasized the two-state solution as the long-term pathway for conflict resolution. This means that the right to self-determination, which Palestinian leaders have demanded since the end of the Second World War, could be fulfilled without denying Israel’s right to exist. The right to self-determination also involves the right of return for Palestinians who have been forcibly displaced to other countries.

The second narrative, which often accompanies the anti-colonial perspective of the Palestine Question, is Muslim solidarity. Indonesia is a Muslim-majority country. It is thus unsurprising that the Islamic elements within Indonesian society, including the Islamic political parties, throw their weight behind Palestine. The Indonesian Ulema Council, for example, released a fatwa (Islamic ruling) that supported the boycott of pro-Israeli products and organized the recent interfaith rally in Jakarta.

Nevertheless, this kind of Muslim solidarity does not prevent Indonesian Muslim leaders from engaging with their Israeli counterparts. For example, Abdurrahman Wahid, former leader of the country’s largest Muslim organization, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), and later the country’s president, made headlines after he visited Israel in 1994. Such engagement has been continued by the current chairman of NU, Yahya Cholil Staquf, who has engaged with Jewish leaders as a peacebuilding effort.

The third main narrative framing the Indonesian government’s response to Palestine is humanitarianism. The humanitarian narrative has also shaped public statements by the foreign minister, who has emphasized humanitarian assistance and aid as part of conflict resolution. The government recently sent 21 tons of aid to Gaza, which were flown to Egypt by the Indonesian Air Force. The government also sent the naval ship, KRI Radjiman Wedyodiningrat, as a floating hospital to facilitate further medical assistance.

This humanitarian assistance also involves Indonesian citizens. For example, MER-C, an Indonesian Muslim humanitarian and medical organization that was involved in the Indonesia Hospital project in northern Gaza, has also sent medical assistance to the Strip. Beyond Muslim organizations, various elements of the wider public have also been involved in aid fundraising, including K-Pop fans.

These narratives have shaped Indonesia’s support for Palestine. While Indonesia lacks the mediation capacity of Qatar and Egypt, it has applied itself to mobilizing international support through global institutions and diplomatic efforts, backed by grassroots solidarity from its citizens. In this way, it is playing an important role in rallying support across the Global South to end the invasion.

The views represented in this paper are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arab Reform Initiative, its staff, or its board.