East Timor's President, Jose Ramos-Horta, was recently in Israel, supposedly to "seek support for agricultual self-sufficiency, food security and maritime security." (East Timor president seeks agricultural, security support, Greer Fay Cashman, The Jerusalem Post, 15/2/11)
Praised by Israeli president Shimon Peres as "representing the highest order of morality," Ramos-Horta returned the compliment by describing Peres as "the best of the Jewish people," and revealed that "he had first become aware of Israel and the Jewish people as a teenager in the 1960s when he read Exodus." (ibid)
In Reflections on a visit to Israel & Palestine (8/3/11), published at The Huffington Post, the "international voice of the Timorese people" during Indonesia's 24-year occupation (1975-1999) of East Timor and Nobel Peace Prize winner (1996) reveals how impressed he was by everything he'd seen and heard in the Jewish state.
Strangely, for all his post-Exodus experience of struggle (admittedly diplomatic, but no less important for that) against the brutal Indonesian occupation of his homeland, Ramos-Horta's understanding of the Zionist project in Palestine seems hardly to have progressed beyond the colonial vision of Leon Uris' trashy propaganda novel. Indeed, the word occupation appears nowhere in this account of a journey to a land now in its 63rd year of Zionist occupation. And why should it? Essentially, as the East Timorese president argues, the Palestinians have never had it so good:
"I recently completed my first State Visit to Israel and Palestine... During my 5-day visit I met with the elder Statesman Nobel Laureate President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and Speaker of the Knesset Reuven Rivlin, President Mahmud Abbas and senior advisers and ministers. I was surprised by the state of peace and economic prosperity prevailing in Israel and the West Bank. Israelis and Palestinians alike are pleased that not one single attack has been launched from the West Bank into Israel in 4 years... Visiting the West Bank I envied the relative prosperity of the Palestinians and the progress being made in their State-building exercise. Palestinians in the West Bank are far ahead of most Sub-Sahara African States, and indeed well ahead of my own country, in economic well-being and the development of the State institutions. Israelis were not bestowed with the same resources available to much of the Arab world. Yet Israelis are ahead of their neighbors, and of many European countries in such fields as humanities, science, food security, information technology, and medicine. They have harvested more Nobel prizes than any other individual country of its size. That this tiny country struggling with water scarcity is a major exporter of high quality agriculture [sic] goods to Europe and Russia illustrates the well-known Jewish resilience and creativity in the face of extreme adversity. Palestinians living in the West Bank, who have been much less fortunate in life [!] than Israelis, are yet ahead of their Arab brothers and sisters in the critical areas of higher education, and serve in key positions in government, business and academia throughout the region, in the US and Europe. In my conversations with Israeli leaders I was struck by the respect I heard for President Abu Maz [sic] and other Palestinian leaders. From the Palestinian side, in spite of decades of betrayal and suffering, I did not hear much animosity towards Israelis and Americans. In spite of obvious long-standing American bias towards Israel, the Palestinians I spoke to continue to favor US mediation. Prime Minister Netanyahu says that he is anxious to restart face-to-face dialogue. He appears to be firmly committed to the two-State concept, to a truly independent Palestinian State, one that is economically prosperous. Yes, the settlements remain a complex issue, but it is a mistake to make them the central issue. The Israelis know that once a final settlement is achieved the settlements have to go. They did it in Gaza and they are prepared to do it in the West Bank with 'minor border adjustments' from both sides."
So says Ramos-Horta today, but in a 1999 interview, he could almost have been talking about Palestine when he said of the Indonesian occupation:
"I don't think it has been their intention to wipe out the entire population but at least to reduce it to a minority. Through the killings, through forced sterilization of women, through transmigration, you achieve precisely that aim: you turn the local people into a minority in their own land. Then you resolve the problem. Similar to the Chinese approach in Tibet." (A profile of East Timor's Jose Ramos-Horta, Conan Elphicke, solidarity-us.org)
Back then, he would, you'd assume, have been aware of Israel's support for that occupation:
"Officially, [Indonesia] is... a country with a hostile attitude toward Israel. Unofficially, however, things are different. According to the CIA (1979), the Mossad has a station in Jakarta operating under a commercial cover. A British journalist reported that Israel has had 'major military contracts' with Indonesia (Coone, 1980). And an Israeli journalist stated that Israeli arms were used in the war Indonesia waged against the people of East Timor (Baram, 1982b). In 1979, the United States arranged the sale of 14 Skyhawk planes from Israel to Indonesia (Klich, 1982a). An American journalist reported at the same time that 'the US government is fronting an arms deal in which Israel, without being publicly identified as the source, is selling Indonesia used warplanes obtained from the United States. Pentagon officials confirmed yesterday that Israel is shipping Indonesia 16 A4 fighters, bought for $25.8 million in the first such third-country sale of US warplanes' (Wilson, 1979, p. A10). In 1983, another squadron was said to be in the process of delivery (Melman, 1983b)." (The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms & Why, Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi, 1987, p 32)
And you'd also assume that he was aware of the devastating aerial bombing campaigns waged against the East Timorese resistance and people beginning in 1977:
"Detailing events in Natabora, in the south, a refugee described how: 'Three aircraft - I think they were Skyhawks - bombed the region, killing thousands of people. In particular, women, children and old people were killed, people who couldn't run for cover. They were killed in large numbers. All we could do was pray for God's protection. The planes came in low and sprayed the ground with bullets, with their machine guns killing many people'. Bombing was followed by a campaign of encirclement in which the population was surrounded by concentric circles of troops, with Timorese youths and men forced to march in front of them." (Indonesia's Forgotten War: The Hidden History of East Timor, John Taylor, 1991, p 87)
Of course Ramos-Horta knew about all this: "Ninety per cent of the weapons and equipment that the Indonesians use are American, including the low flying jets that blew apart Ramos-Horta's sister before his mother's eyes, and broke the back of Falantil in the late '70s." (A profile of...)
Yet, speaking during his visit at the Hebrew University's Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations on Peace-Building, State-Building & Reconciliation: Experiences & Perspectives, Ramos-Horta is reported to have said: "We have reconciled with all those who have occupied us, and today we have exemplary relations with Indonesia." (East Timor president seeks...)
Presumably, this reconciliation applies also to those who aided and abetted Indonesia's occupation of East Timor. Would he, I wonder, be so forgiving if East Timor were still under Indonesia's thumb, as Palestine is still under Israel's?
To another matter. While in Israel, the deeply reconciled, cap-in-hand East Timorese president is reported to have perfomed his own version of one of those famous Israeli shrugs: "While keen to enhance relations with Israel, he admitted that the fruits of friendship would be a one-way street because there is very little that East Timor can do that will benefit Israel." (East Timor president seeks...)
How very cute! Now just watch how East Timor votes in the UN General Assembly when an Israel-related matter next arises.