Two incidents represent turning points in Malaysian support for Palestine: the Mavi Marmara “Freedom Flotilla” incident, and the visit of Prime Minister Najib Razak to the Gaza Strip. The first took place in 2010 and boosted public support in Malaysia in an unprecedented way. Malaysian activists were on board the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip when it was attacked in international waters by Israeli commandos. Nine Turkish citizens were killed during the assault — one more died later of his wounds — and Malaysia raged at the incident. Public support for Palestine has been high ever since. The Malaysians who took part in the flotilla were greeted as heroes by the public and the Prime Minister.
The visit of Prime Minister Razak and his family took place in January 2013. He was the first Malaysian Prime Minister ever to visit Palestine. “We wish to see an independent, unified Palestine,” he declared, “enjoying the peace and security which all the world’s peoples deserve.” Although, the Prime Minister’s office described the visit as humanitarian, many Malaysians saw it as an act of defiance towards Israel, which acts like a state above international law.
In the nineties, Malaysian public support for Palestine was boosted by the influx of students returning from their studies abroad, where they had been made aware of the reality of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land. Many had first-hand knowledge of the suffering of the Palestinian refugees and listened to the Palestinian narrative, something which is usually absent or misrepresented in the local and international media.
There are many Malaysian NGOs working solely for Palestine, such as Aman Falastin, Aqsa Syarif, Palestinian Cultural Organisation Malaysia, Al-Quds Foundation Malaysia, Viva Palestina Malaysia, BDS Malaysia, Myaqsa and others. Activists and activities for Palestine take place all year round in universities, schools, mosques, theatres, festival halls, hotels and playgrounds, as well as across mainstream and social media. There is not a single day that does not witness activity for Palestine in Malaysia. No other international issue attracts as much public attention and support.
Officially, Malaysia’s voting in international organisations, such as the UN General Assembly and Security Council, and UNESCO, always favours Palestine. The issue is ever present on the agenda of Malaysian leaders whenever they meet their American and European counterparts. The government’s stance on the Palestinian issue is far better than many of the Arab states. For Malaysian Muslims, Palestine and, in particular, Al-Quds, is a sanctuary of Islam and should be preserved as such at any cost.
Moreover, Malaysia has always kept all Palestinian factions at the same distance. The government recognises Palestine as a state and hosts a Palestinian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur. President Mahmoud Abbas and other Fatah leaders are frequently received in Malaysia. Prime Minister Razak has also received Khaled Meshaal, the former head of the Hamas Political Bureau, on two occasions, apart from his aforementioned visit to the Gaza Strip.
Although Muslim and Christian Malaysians revere the Holy Land for religious reasons, the law in Malaysia prevents citizens from visiting the occupied land, including Al-Quds (Jerusalem) and Bethlehem. Such visits are considered to be a form of normalisation with the occupation. A Malaysian passport is one of few that does not allow its holders to travel to Israel.
Two issues are always in Malaysian hearts: the humanitarian catastrophe in the Gaza Strip due to the 11-year Israeli-led siege, and the safety and sanctity of the Holy City of Al-Quds, as well as the well-being of the Palestinians there.
I have witnessed and taken part in many activities related to Jerusalem. In 2012, the Deputy Prime Minister was the patron of the inauguration ceremony of Al-Quds Foundation Malaysia, established by political leaders from the ruling party (UMNO) and the opposition (PAS); I was an executive director.
Two years later, Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was the patron of the Save Al-Quds Campaign which was initiated by several Malaysian NGOs in the wake of the Israeli aggression and closure of Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque in 2014. More than 45 Malaysian entities, including civil society groups and political parties, took part in the campaign. Hundreds of activities were initiated and the campaign is still functioning and active.
It is noticeable that Malaysian politicians become very sentimental when it comes to Al-Quds and the Palestinian struggle. In August 2014, Agriculture and Agro-Based Industry Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakub closed his HSBC bank account and cut his credit card in response to the bank’s closure of the accounts of organisations in Britain which support the Palestinians.
When US President Donald Trump announced last December that he was recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Malaysian Defence Minister Hishamuddin Hussein declared that Malaysia’s armed forces are prepared to receive “any order” over Jerusalem. He described Trump’s announcement, as a “slap in the face for the entire Muslim world.”
Furthermore, Prime Minister Razak led thousands of Muslims at a rally on Friday22 December at Putra Mosque in Putrajaya, slamming Trump’s decision. The Prime Minister told the crowd that Malaysia will do all it can to save Jerusalem and brushed aside all threats and accusations: “Yes, I have visited the White House,” he said, “and, yes, Trump is a good acquaintance, but I will not pawn the sanctity of Islam.”
With regard to the Gaza Strip, Malaysians have always worked to lift the illegal blocked, and have tried to ease the suffering of its people. Humanitarian and solidarity delegations from Malaysia exceed in number many other nations by far. Activists and government officials have visited the territory and delivered humanitarian aid. They thus have first-hand knowledge of the crisis facing the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip who are, no doubt, extremely grateful to Malaysia for such support.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.