US embassy moves to Jerusalem. Family bombers in Java. Anwar Ibrahim released. By Hamish McDonald.

Gaza killings as Trump moves embassy

Protesters carry Palestinian flags in the southern Gaza Strip.
Protesters carry Palestinian flags in the southern Gaza Strip.
Credit: ashraf amra / salampix / abaca

Across the world, reporters were using words such as “split-screen” and “grotesque” to describe the opening of the new US embassy in Jerusalem on Monday, recognising the holy city as Israel’s capital for the first time, and coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel.

An ebullient Benjamin Netanyahu said this was “making history” amid upbeat celebrations, enhanced by Israel’s win last Saturday in Eurovision. Donald Trump was personally represented by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, with casino tycoon and major campaign donor Sheldon Adelson also in attendance.

Dallas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress, whom Trump sent to give the opening prayer at the embassy, has preached that Jews are destined for “an eternity of separation from God in hell”, along with Mormons, Muslims and Hindus. Texas televangelist John Hagee, who once preached that Hitler was a “hunter” sent by God to drive Jews to their homeland, gave the closing benediction.

Only Guatemala and Paraguay are following the US lead. Most other countries, including Australia, said they would keep their embassies in Tel Aviv, pending a settlement with the Palestinians including the disposition of Jerusalem.

The other side of the split screen showed events some 40 kilometres away on the border with Gaza, where six weeks of “march of return” protests culminated on Monday with some 50,000 Palestinians burning tyres and using slingshots as they approached the barbed-wire entanglements and sand-berms guarded by 13 battalions of the Israeli army.

Army snipers killed 58 of the demonstrators and wounded hundreds of others, according to reports, leading to accusations of disproportionate response. Army spokesmen said the protesters were clearly being orchestrated by Hamas leaders as cover for three teams of armed militants who tried to plant explosives under border fences and shot at soldiers. It was “a predictable bloodbath”, said commentator Amos Harel in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, given privation in Gaza, Israeli indifference and political failure by Hamas.

Indonesian jihadists putting family first

Indonesian jihadists pioneered a new extreme of terrorist attack in Surabaya this week: middle-class family suicide bombings. As East Java police chief Machfud Arifin said: “The motivation is they want to go to heaven together.”

First to go in the search for martyrdom were well-off Dita Oepriarto and his wife, Puji, along with their four kids, the youngest a nine-year-old. They dispersed in a car and motorcycles to explode bombs outside three churches in the city last Sunday, killing themselves and 12 others.

Then Anton Febrianto and his wife, Puspitasari, died along with two of their children when a bomb exploded prematurely in their apartment at Sidoarjo, on Surabaya’s outskirts, though two other children survived. The third family of five rolled up on two motorcycles to a police station in Surabaya on Monday morning, and exploded suicide bombs at the security gate. The parents and two children died, an eight-year-old survived, and 10 bystanders were injured.

As Sidney Jones, the veteran observer of Indonesian radicalism at Jakarta’s Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict, said: “This may be the first time in the world that parents took their children on a family outing to blow themselves up.”

With previous groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah, which carried out the 2002 bombing in Bali, only adult males would be considered warriors, Jones wrote in the Lowy Institute’s The Interpreter blog. Daesh was more of “a family affair” with whole families encouraged to migrate to its former caliphate in Syria “so fathers could fight, women could reproduce, teach or treat the wounded, and children could grow up in a pure Islamic state”, Jones said. “The problem was that many of the women were not satisfied with the very traditional role ISIS [Daesh] assigned them. Some, as we know from observing social media, wanted more action and admired women suicide bombers in Palestine, Iraq, and Chechnya.”

About 500 Indonesians are thought to have gone to Syria, and Dita’s family may have been one set of returnees from the extinguished caliphate. Wise after the event, Police Chief Machfud said they and the two other families used to meet weekly to view jihadist videos, hear radical sermons and get bomb-making instructions.

National police chief Tito Karnavian said the attackers supported Jamaah Ansharut Daulah (JAD), the main Indonesian affiliate of Daesh. JAD’s leader Aman Abdurrahman is detained at a high-security prison near Jakarta while standing trial for directing a bombing and shooting attack on the capital’s central Jalan Thamrin in January 2016. From May 8 to 19, about 155 detained Islamist radicals held hostages at the prison before being subdued, killing five members of the elite Densus 88 anti-terrorism police unit, partly funded and trained by Australia and the United States.

It was a grim prelude to the start on Thursday of the Muslim fasting month, normally a time of calm and reflection.

Anwar sedate

In Malaysia, jailed opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim left prison on Wednesday after receiving a royal pardon for his dubious sodomy conviction on the advice of new prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Ousted prime minister Najib Razak appears headed in the opposite direction. Three days after losing the May 9 election, he was prevented from leaving the country on the order of Mahathir, who says Najib is likely to face charges over the $US4.5 billion missing from the state development fund 1MDB.

Meanwhile, Mahathir is not rushing to hand over the prime ministership to Anwar, as promised. The 92-year-old veteran of a previous 22 years in office said on Tuesday he might stay “one or two years” and Anwar would be getting no special treatment among leaders of the four parties in his coalition.

So far, Anwar is showing patience. His wife Wan Azizah Wan Ismail, set to be Mahathir’s deputy, said he might need a year to recover from prison and a recent shoulder operation. Occupying Anwar’s former seat, she is then likely to resign and allow him to re-enter parliament in a byelection.

Malaysia is not yet setting off a liberal wave elsewhere in South-East Asia. In Cambodia, Hun Sen’s government forced the sale by Perth mining figure Bill Clough of The Phnom Penh Post newspaper by hitting it with a $US3.9 million tax bill, written off in the purchase by Malaysian PR operator Sivakumar Ganapathy. The editor, Kay Kimsong, was then fired for refusing to remove an article about Ganapathy’s ties to Hun Sen, while 13 other staff have resigned in protest at the dismissal. In Thailand, owners ousted editor Umesh Pandey from the Bangkok Post for refusing to “tone down” coverage of the military-installed government.

Pompeo and circumstance

North Korea tapped the brakes this week in the rush to Kim Jong-un’s summit with Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12, suspending talks with South Korean officials because of a joint US–South Korean air force exercise and warning the summit might be off if Washington kept insisting on complete unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Its top nuclear negotiator, Kim Kye-kwan, said North Korea would never emulate Libya and Iraq, which met a “miserable fate” at the hands of “big powers” after disarming, singling out Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, for advocating this path. “We do not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him,” Kim said.

Actually, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi lasted nearly eight years after renouncing his nuclear program, until brought down by domestic uprising in the Arab Spring of 2011 (admittedly helped by US–European air power), and it’s still not clear if the Bolton view prevails anyway.

Asked on TV last Sunday what “denuclearisation” meant, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo confessed, “I’m not sure how to define it fully”, despite having met Kim Jong-un twice in recent weeks. At some points Pompeo talked about immediate scrapping of all North Korea’s nuclear weapons, in exchange for economic aid and a no-attack assurance, at others of just ensuring “America is no longer held at risk”.

If this strip poker summit does happen, Nihon Keizai Shimbun commentator Katsuji Nakazawa suggested Adelson’s Singapore resort and casino, Marina Bay Sands, as an appropriate venue.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 19, 2018 as "Trump moves embassy amid Gaza killings ".

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