Azka Daulia is one of few Muslim Indonesians who openly support Israel. Her story began the day after Israel signed a peace deal with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and as it turned out, Sept. 15, 2020, was to be a day she will never forget.  

"The ceremony was not broadcast on [Indonesian] television," Daulia said in an interview with Israel Hayom. "Whosever job it is to determine what gets broadcast did not show the public the wonderful Israeli news.

"The ceremony took place at 11 p.m. Indonesian time, and I was already asleep. But the next morning I went to the Israeli Foreign Ministry's Facebook page and watched the recording of the ceremony, heard Prime Minister Netanyahu talk about King David, and I said to myself, 'This is a nation that believes in God, and I think it's something positive to bring to people.' I was so excited, I cried.

"I told my father about the ceremony, and he said it was wonderful news. Many Muslim Indonesians love Israel, and I wanted people to see for themselves and enjoy the peace and the hope, how inspiring it is. I decided to share the recording of the ceremony on my Facebook and Instagram. I wrote to my Indonesian friends that I didn't film or edit the video, and I just wanted them to see the ceremony, that they should see the hope for peace."

Daulia added to her post an appeal addressed to Indonesian President Joko Widodo "in the hope that Indonesia will follow in the footsteps of these countries [UAE and Bahrain] and will establish diplomatic relations with Israel too.

"I was raised as a Muslim but have always been curious about Judaism," she said. "My grandfather is a devout Muslim. He is 101 years old and he has never spoken about Judaism. I have always felt uncomfortable asking him about it. But when I was a child, my father told me that if I wanted to know more about [the Prophet] Muhammad, then I should read the Torah. Also, my brother has a son who he named from the Torah, Eliezer."

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population. It gained its independence in 1945, previously having been under the Netherlands' rule. It was not until 1949 that the Dutch recognized Indonesia's sovereignty following an armed and diplomatic conflict between the two.

Daulia and her parents

Indonesia held its first elections in 1999 when a constitution was enacted. The country is part of The Non-Aligned Movement, members of which do not formally align with or against any major power bloc, but Indonesia is known for supporting the Palestinian quest for statehood. There has been an increase in the number of extremist Islamic groups in the country in recent years, but most of its inhabitants are of moderate views.

There were attempts to establish diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel in the mid-1950s, but it failed due to pressure from other Arab countries. The following decade saw reports of Israeli arms sales to Indonesia, as well as clandestine negotiations to establish trade relations. Formally, entry restrictions for Israelis were lifted in 2018, and vice versa, but Israel's travel warning to the region remains in place. 

There are only a few Jews in Indonesia, some of whom maintain a secret synagogue in the city of Mendo in the country's east.  

This makes Daulia's post even more courageous. As expected, it sparked raging controversy in Indonesia and worldwide and received hundreds of shares and comments, including some harsh replies from Indonesians. 

"Israel is Jews, my sister," someone commented. "It does not matter if the enemy is big or small; it is still an enemy. This is not what the Prophet Muhammad wanted. We need to build our own economy and army, and the laws of Islam will rule the Dome [of the Rock]."

Another person wrote, "Open your eyes, my sister, to how many Palestinian Muslims are being persecuted by Israel!" 

Daulia's Facebook status read that she "has stepped up to fight for the diplomatic relations between Indonesia and Israel." Next to the caption are the flags of Israel and Indonesia with a red heart connecting the two. 

"I have always dreamed of having a connection to Israel," she says. "It stems from the education I received at home and at school. After the Abraham Accords, I realized I needed to make my personal aspirations public. I realized that in the new reality, it is no longer a dream. And I have to fight for it."

"I show my support for Israel because I want to spark a dialogue [among Indonesians]. Let them discuss, argue, take acting. I used a picture of a glass box in one of my posts: everyone can see what's inside, but people do not look inside the transparent box. Inside it has information about Israel, and therefore I open the box, and magically the truth comes out, and everyone can see it and be inspired to receive hope for our country to enrich Indonesia with knowledge and technology. 

"People do not know the facts, and the important thing is how do we educate them to remain objective, question the validity of facts. It is important that they be in a constant search for truth."

Daulia's post continues to send shockwaves across Indonesia. 

"Miss Azka's hopes for the chosen people are good and very optimistic. Cooperation with Israel will certainly benefit Indonesia. The question is whether such hope is acceptable in our [Indonesian] community. Even more, we need to look into what kind of [wrongful] acts Israel committed when it was conquering the Promised Land", one person wrote. 

Q: What did you answer them?

"That my dream is for Indonesia to prosper even more. That unity, love, and affection among Indonesian people should increase. That we should have more good things. I wrote that this could be anyone's dream. I am sure that there are many good things Indonesia can do with Israel to achieve this dream.

Q: Isn't that perhaps a little bit naive?

"Obviously, it's not going to be easy. I have 4,000 Facebook friends, and very few dare to support me openly. I'm not saying that the Palestinian debate should be suppressed. On the contrary, it should be conducted, but in a dignified manner, based on facts. 

"Someone commented on my post saying that Israel established its settlements in direct violation of international law. I responded that I see Israel as a country that has always belonged to the Jews. It's a known fact that Jews have had a presence in Israel for all of history and that it is not a Palestinian country. I recommended that person some knowledgeable sources to learn more about the subject," Daulia explained.

"Another person asked me if I wasn't afraid to be considered a Zionist. I pointed out that there are so many things we can learn from Israel that can benefit the Indonesian people, that, in fact, I can't wait for people to say that I am a Zionist."

Q: Aren't you scared that others will try to silence you?

"No, I'm not. What I am scared of is foolishness, ignorance, and the coronavirus. I have the right to speak my mind. 

Daulia is the fifth of seven children. Her parents chose her name, Daulia, after the beautiful Indonesian Dahlia flower.  

Her parents, Muhammad Nordin and Aka Mastikawati – most Indonesians do not have last names – are owners of an Indonesian frozen fruit business and a small art and gift gallery in Jakarta. Her father volunteers as an educator on the board of directors of the El Zeitoun boarding school located on Java island that Daulia herself studied in. Since the beginning of the outbreak, he spends all his time at the school and rarely returns home. 

"The school has a vision. Not an Islamic, Christian, Jewish, or any other religious one, but a vision of education, culture, tolerance, and peace. I worked as a teacher in that school for two years before I started university."

The boarding school is attended by 2,500 students, girls and boys, from all provinces and islands in Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, and South Africa. 

"The school choir sings songs in Hebrew which the school principal taught them because they contain messages of peace. At the Muslim New Year celebration, one of the biggest events of the school year, we also sing Jewish songs like Hineh Ma Tov and Hava Nagila

Daulia's connection to Israel began two years ago when she applied to study for a master's degree in architecture at the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, an institution Daulia considers "the best in the world." Daulia traveled to Singapore to send in her application as Indonesia bans all Israeli websites. 

"Unfortunately, my application was denied. I was told that the school could not accept me as there were no diplomatic ties between Israel and Indonesia," she said.

On the last day of her trip to Singapore, Daulia went to pray at the local Chabad house and stayed for Shabbat dinner. "The rabbi approached our table, acquired who I was, and introduced me to his wife. I told them I wanted to learn Hebrew, and they recommended an online course. I exchanged emails with an Israeli guy, and we corresponded for a year. During that time, I studied Hebrew online at the Rosen School of Hebrew. 

Daulia and her brother holding a sign in Hebrew

At the same time, Daulia began following the Facebook page of the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the page of pro-Israel advocate Hananya Naftali. Naftali served in the Armored Corps during 2014's Operation Protective Edge and began to speak out on Israel's behalf after his release from the military. 

"It is very exciting to see an Indonesian Muslim woman use social media to promote peace and friendship between our peoples," Naftali told Israel Hayom. "Peace brings with itself peace, and love leads to even more peace. Indonesia needs more pioneers like Daulia to promote peace with Israel, something that will benefit both Israelis and Indonesians."

Q: Why is the normalization of ties between Israel and Indonesia important for you? 

"It is important for my country. Israel does not really need Indonesia, but Indonesia needs Israel. You have a lot of intelligent people, modern technology, high-tech, sustainable energy. We have a lot in common, and we can learn a lot from you in order to promote our country."

This article originally appeared in Israel Hayom.