When I met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Christian Media Summit in Jerusalem last October, I felt honored that he heard me call out his name and invited me to take a photograph of us together.
I have been to Israel four times. I hope to continue to come every year, by the grace and favor of God.
The more I go to Israel, the more I believe in the value of building people-to-people relationships between Indonesians and Israelis. Although our countries have no diplomatic relations, I strongly believed in the wisdom of the Israeli government opening its doors for Christian and Muslim pilgrims, and secular tourists, from Indonesia.
But now, I am broken-hearted. A week ago, I received information from a friend in Israel that the Israeli government was planning to ban Indonesian citizens from entering Israel. Now, that ban is official. No more tourist visas for Indonesian passport-holders will be issued after June 9th.
I sincerely hope Israel will review this decision. It confers no benefit on Israel. There have never been any problems caused by Indonesian tourists visiting Israel. Please do not let our citizenship status affect our faith, and how we express it.
Israel is a promised land - not only for Israelis, but for Christians all over the world. Israel is our land too, where the prophet whom we believe as the messenger from God, our Lord Jesus, was born.
According to an Israeli tour manager, whom I interviewed in 2012 when I was a journalist for Indonesia's Metro TV, Christian tourists from Indonesia rank third in terms of the number of pilgrims visiting Israel, after China and South Korea. 30,000 Indonesians visit every year.
Not only is Indonesia's the world's most populous Muslim-majority state, and its 24 million Christians constitute 10% of the country's population.
There are already financial obstacles to Indonesians arriving: many Christian tourists enter Israel through the Jordanian or Egyptian border instead of via Ben-Gurion Airport because the cost of the airfare from Jakarta to Tel Aviv is far more expensive than to Amman or Cairo.
Believe me, even though it is framed as retaliation for Indonesia freezing the idea of issuing viasa for Israelis - the Indonesian government will not be affected by Israel's decision. But it will greatly affect us, Christians in Indonesia who love Israel.
I myself founded Hadassah of Indonesia, whose mission is to educate Indonesians about Israel, Jews and Holocaust history. I bring Christian and Muslim Indonsesians to tour Israel.
I see for myself the positive impact on accepting Israel by exposing Indonesians to Israeli culture and engaging them to discuss Israel on Facebook. I am often approached by people who want to get to know Israel more deeply; in private, I get queries about how to connect with Israeli companies, in fields such as agriculture, technology and water management.
I appeal to the Israeli government to re-evaluate its decision and lift the ban. I love Indonesia, and I love Israel. Let my voice, and the voices of tens of thousands of Indonesians, be heard by the decision-makers in Jerusalem.
Monique Rijkers is the founder of the Tolerance Film Festival and Hadassah of Indonesia, dedicated to informing the people of Indonesia about Israel, the Jewish people and the Holocaust through cultural encounters and trips to Israel.
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