“Dear Indonesia […]It is with a heavy heart I announce that I am denied from visiting your country.”
So begins the sad viral letter posted recently by one of Facebook’s most popular “vloggers”, the Muslim Palestinian Nuseir “Nas Daily” Yassin, who posts daily one-minute videos on his world travels. A multilingual Harvard alumnus, Nas has been warmly welcomed into most countries, has no criminal record – and he holds an Israeli passport.
Indonesia has rejected Nas’ special visa application.
“I wanted to show the world the beauty of Indonesia in the most apolitical, pure way possible,” he wrote. Nas’ letter to Indonesians instantly raised an uproar, racking up tens of thousands of expressions of support nationwide.
I first emailed Nas months ago, asking him to visit Indonesia as a gift to my wife, one of his most loyal Indonesian fans. He called me immediately. When I learned Nas was Palestinian with an Israeli passport, I offered to fly to Singapore to help him apply for Indonesia’s “calling visa” for Israeli passport holders.
Over spicy noodles in Singapore, Nas enthusiastically told me about his plans to not only film the colorful cultures and cuisine of Java and Bali but also eastern Indonesia’s remote and small islands. He had clearly done his research about the country. I was impressed.
The long and complicated “calling visa” process for Israelis requires an ocean of documents, including personal bank statements, repeated visits to the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore, and multiple interrogation sessions.
All in all, Israelis require triple the paperwork, wait time, and visa fees compared to most countries’ applicants. It was borderline insulting, but Nas did it anyway. We followed all of the government’s recommendations precisely.
But after Nas had already waited two weeks in Singapore, Indonesia rejected his visa, refusing to provide any reasons why.
It is worth asking if Indonesia’s rejection of Nas actually helps the Palestinians.
On Facebook, local fans tried to help Nas with creative solutions: to give up his Israeli citizenship, to marry his Jewish-American girlfriend in order to get a United States passport, to come after the 2019 election, and so on. But naturally, the most humane solution is for the government to end its blanket discrimination against Israelis.
If we want to increase peace in this divided world, then Indonesians, Palestinians and Israelis need to talk.
Some argue Indonesia’s lack of diplomatic relations with Israel is a mistake, because it is wrong to blanket-ban an entire country’s citizens, Jakarta has no voice in any of the Mideast peace talks, and there is nothing unconstitutional about a trialogue with Israel and Palestine.
Others argue Indonesians should help address the Palestinians’ suffering. Both have a point.
However, 113 of 195 countries already have diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine, including seven ASEAN neighbours, 54 postcolonial Non-Aligned Movement countries, and 14 Muslim-majority Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) countries such as Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. Interacting with Israelis is not anti-Palestinian.
Not empathizing with all countries also lowers Indonesia’s reputation as a peacemaker and bridge-builder on the global stage.
Negotiating in multicultural, multireligious environments is a requirement for global leadership – especially as a new United Nations Security Council member. A two-state solution cannot be discussed with only one of the parties.
What could Indonesians gain from interacting with Nas?
First, he would educate the world about Indonesia’s 707 languages, 360 ethnicities and 17,500 islands through his popular videos.
Indonesians can also learn more about everyday life in the holy land, or interfaith relationships. Most Indonesians have never met an Israeli, and vice versa.
Indonesia is not a monolith, because of its wide diversity of cultures, faiths and political beliefs.
And neither is Israel. I have much respect for Indonesians, but many have a serious blind spot when they incorrectly mix up governments’ policies with harmless Israelis like Nas.
For example, in August 2015, the young Jewish-Israeli international badminton champion Misha Zilberman was similarly stranded in Singapore for two weeks, banned by Jakarta from obtaining a visa to play in the World Badminton Championships until the very last minute.
“This was one of the toughest moments of my life,” Zilberman said. “I received a lot of threats [by Indonesians], on Twitter and Facebook as well. ‘You won’t get a visa’, ‘We will kill you’, ‘You shouldn’t come here’.”
We all want to be treated with dignity, for our suffering and mistreatment in life to be acknowledged. But this also means recognising how our choices have created untold suffering for others.
Indonesians rightfully often complain about always being “the invisible giant”, constantly eclipsed by Malaysia and other Asian neighbours. Nas’ videos about Indonesia’s complexities would be a global public relations bonanza of acclaim for the archipelago. So would Indonesia’s decision to open diplomatic relations with both Israel and Palestine.
In Istanbul in May, Vice President Jusuf Kalla told the OIC, “In our direct experience everywhere, and in Aceh, we must know both sides, or should be friends […] So if Indonesia talks to Israel [like Jordan, Turkey and Egypt do], new peace can be made that way.”
Nas is a tireless exponent of the indispensable philosophy that it’s better to bring people together than to divide them. To my wife and me, Nas represents some of the best of humankind: respectful of other cultures, hardworking, friendly and curious. He also embodies what people like about Israelis.
The most effective geostrategic asset we can bring to this Indonesian-Palestinian-Israeli challenge is a peaceful heart.
The time is now. Let us send a message of hope to Nas: That he is not alone, that he matters, that we support him as a fellow human being, and that we will one day shake his hand and dine together on Indonesian soil. And to the future Misha Zilbermans as well.
We all know how it feels like to be rejected or discriminated against.
Like me, Nas has long recognised that Indonesia is not only a 73-year-old nation, but also an idea. It is up to Indonesians to decide whether their country will be remembered for either the values of exclusion and state sovereignty – or of inclusion and compassion.
By first acknowledging each other’s wounds and dignity, it will be much easier to bring the human family back together.
The writer is an American of Sri Lankan descent and a 2017 graduate of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.