Remembering Those to Whom We Owe Independence

One of the ways to show our gratefulness for our independence is by remembering those who helped Indonesia achieve international recognition after its declaration of independence. The people of Palestine were among those who strongly supported the independence of this young nation that newly freed itself from shackles of colonialism.

Image Andi Noor Faradiba
Manager Global Humanity Response ACT

To the people of Indonesia, August is surely a special month. Even since the first day of the month, one can surely feel the different atmosphere as every house, street, and alley welcome the celebration of the Indonesian Independence that falls on the 17th day of the month.

The red and white flag of Indonesia can be seen waving everywhere. The entrance gates of small alleys and neighborhoods, known locally as gapura, are decorated in red and white; Murals are painted on the walls to enliven the celebration, and people are busy preparing for games and competitions that are held annually to welcome this festive occasion.  

It's perfect. It's beautiful. It's glorious. It's a victory.

We Indonesians must be grateful for the independence that was declared 76 years ago. One of the ways for us to express our gratefulness is by remembering those who have contributed to our independence and ponder on their struggle and sacrifice, our forefathers who ensured, with their sweat and blood, that we, their descendants and future generations, do not have to live under the colonialism of other nations. This nation was born from the fundamental belief that independence is something that must be fought for.

There were many events that led to and supported Indonesian independence, from military resistance, popular uprising, to strong diplomatic efforts. It was these diplomatic efforts initiated by our forefathers that made sure that Indonesia will not be left unrecognized by the international community when many countries still viewed Indonesia as a Dutch colony.   

After the declaration of independence by Soekarno and Hatta on August 17, 1945, international recognition did not come immediately. It took quite a time before foreign countries started expressing their support which was also paramount in encouraging other nations who were colonized to also fight for their freedom.

Which country first recognized Indonesian Independence?

It was Egypt that first expressed its support and recognition. In March 1947, the Egyptian government represented by Abdul Monem declared the official recognition of Indonesia’s independence. This recognition cannot be separated from the lobbying of the Central Committee of the Indonesian Independence Association, Palestinian figures, as well as Egyptian figures and government.

A reception on 9 June 1947 to celebrate Egypt's recognition of Indonesian independence. From left to right: Indonesian Foreign Minister Haji Agus Salim, Prince Faisal, Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister, and Muhammad Amin Al Husaini. (Photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

However, the support for Indonesia’s independence also came from a nation that was also struggling for their freedom: Palestinians. On September 6, 1944, the Grand Mufti of Palestine Sheikh Muhammad Amin Al-Husaini, having heard that Japan gave Indonesia sovereignty, made a public statement of the people of Palestine’s support for Indonesian Independence through radio and Arabic media broadcasting. This statement was broadcasted for two days, including by Al-Ahram media. In addition, the Nablus-born Ali Taher, a wealthy merchant and media titan who owned print media agencies including Ashoura, Al-Shabab, Al Minhaj, and Al Alam Al-Masri, also played an important role in disseminating support for Indonesian independence. Ali Taher’s love for Indonesia was evidenced by his closeness to Indonesian freedom fighters in the Middle East.

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

What Mufti Al-Husaini and Mr. Taher had done was a form of political and diplomatic efforts to encourage and lobby the Arab League nations to help support Indonesia in achieving its freedom.

On October 3, 1944 in his capacity as Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and President of the World Muslim Congress, Mufti Al-Husaini sent a telegram to the then Japanese ambassador to Germany; Oshima. Oshima then rebuked the Japanese government for not giving Indonesia Independence as promised by the Emperor of Japan, and asked the then Prime Minister of Japan, Kuniki Koiso to grant freedom to the people of Indonesia, most of whom are Muslims. The World Muslim Congress urged the Japanese government to grant independence to Indonesia. Kuniki Koiso promised to give independence to the Indonesian people and his answer was recorded by the Japanese news agency, Domei.

Sheikh Muhammad Amin al-Husaini studied at the same madrasa as KH. Hasyim Asy'ari who was the founder of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic movement in Indonesia. Hasyim Asy'ari corresponded with al-Husaini and was given a copy of al-Husaini's telegram sent by the Japanese prime minister. In his capacity as Chairman of NU, Hasyim Asy'ari acknowledged al-Husaini's role in pressuring the Japanese prime minister to take action to grant Indonesia independence according to the promise of the former Emperor of Japan.

Spreading the Message

Al-Husaini also used his influence to lobby other Middle Eastern countries to recognize Indonesian independence. He worked to build ties between Indonesia and Egypt and introduce Indonesia to King Farouk of Egypt. He also persuaded other Arab countries to recognize Indonesia's independence. Al-Husaini lobbied two important Arab League figures, Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmy el-Naqrasyi and Egyptian Foreign Minister Abdurrahman Azzam Pasha who was also Secretary-General of the Arab League at the time.

On October 16, 1945 a meeting was held in Cairo at the Islamic Youth Organization building which was attended by many Arab political leaders and activists including members of the Egyptian parliament, secretary-general of the Arab League, dean of King Fouad I University, press figures, Arab nationalists Muhammad Ali Taher and Habib Borguiba who later became President of Tunisia, as well as Lebanese and Algerian leaders and activists. There were also two representatives of Indonesian students, namely Muhammad Zein Hasan and Ismail Banda. The meeting resulted in seven points of resolution: to discuss all Arabs and Muslims to support Indonesian independence, to discuss it in their parliaments, to officially recognize the sovereignty of the Republic of Indonesia, and officially announce their support. They also agreed to pressure the British, whose troops had arrived in Indonesia, not to give their support to the Dutch.

On November 18 1946, Al-Husaini telephoned Muhamad Rasjid, the then deputy foreign minister of Indonesia, to inform him that Arab countries fully supported Indonesian independence. Al-Husaini then invited Muhamad Abdulmunim Mustapha, Consul General of Egypt in Bombay, to go to Indonesia by private jet and meet with President Soekarno on March 15, 1947. He brought a letter to President Soekarno saying that all member countries of the Arab League supported the independence of Indonesia.

Haji Agus Salim (second from left) and Muhammad Ali Taher in 1946. (photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

In April 1947, Indonesian Foreign Minister Haji Agus Salim who was also the leader of the Sarekat Islam was sent on a diplomatic mission to the Middle East for international recognition.

On June 10, 1947, the diplomatic treaty between Indonesia and Egypt was signed in Cairo by Naqrashi Pasha, Egyptian Foreign Minister, and Haji Agus Salim, Indonesian Minister of Foreign Affairs.

Haji Agus Salim’s visit to Egypt was accompanied by Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Muhamad Rasjid and Minister of Information Abdurrahman Baswedan. It was the first international agreement of significant importance signed by Indonesia. Haji Agus Salim advised A.R. Baswedan to bring a copy of the agreement to Soekarno even with his life at stake.

On June 14, the Dutch Ambassador to Egypt protested the agreement, claiming that Indonesia was not yet independent and still under Dutch colonization. The Dutch ambassador promised that Egypt would receive full support from the Netherlands for the issue of Palestine at the United Nations if Egypt revoke its recognition of Indonesia's independence. This posed a moral dilemma for the Palestinian and Egyptian leaders at the time. However, their support for Indonesian independence was persistent.

“One of the conditions to be a member of the United Nations is that a country must have received de jure recognition from a foreign country in the form of an international agreement signed with that country. The treaty, of course, brought disappointment to the Dutch government but when the Dutch Consul in Cairo requested a meeting with the Prime Minister of Egypt, their request was declined,” said Taher Ibrahim Hamad, Deputy Head of The mission of the Palestinian Embassy in Jakarta.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Haji Agus Salim (right), Egyptian Prime Minister Mahmoud Fahmy el-Naqrasyi (center) and A.R. Baswedan witnesses the signing of the diplomatic agreement between Egypt and Indonesia. (photo: Indonesian Ministry of Information)

Egypt's recognition of Indonesia's independence was followed by Lebanon in June 1947, Syria in July 1947, Saudi Arabia in November 1947, and Yemen in May 1948. When the second Dutch Military Aggression in 1948 erupted, at the request of Sheikh Al-Husaini, the Arab League jointly closed their seaports and airports to the Dutch. Al-Husaini also asked Arab League countries to fly the Indonesian flag in addition to their own flags at all ports. The Suez Canal was also blocked for the Dutch military. Responding to the Dutch aggression against Indonesia, Ali Taher also provided financial assistance to Indonesia to strengthen the economy of the newly formed republic.

All of these efforts taken by our Palestinian brothers to support the independence of Indonesia show how Indonesia and Palestine have always been strong allies. Today, 76 years after the Declaration of Indonesian Independence, our ally and friend Palestine is still under occupation. When we remember the important role the Palestinians played in supporting our independence, we feel sad that they themselves still live in shackles. Today, when we can proudly fly the red and white flag and sing our national anthem, our allies and friends in Palestine are being persecuted.

We must ask ourselves if we have repaid our debts to those who have fully supported us, the Palestinians. When Palestine is still suffering from the blockade and unjust occupation, what have we done to support its people?

It is our legacy to help the Palestinians achieve their freedom, just like they helped us to achieve ours. International Humanitarian Committee for Palestine Liberation (KKIPP) understands very well that it is now our turn to make history by taking our role in the struggle of the Palestinians. Just like what the Palestinian have done for us, the people of Indonesia, with its civil society organizations, shall move the world to support the independence of Palestine. []