The Asian Games were a great success, marred only by a few scandals and controversies, including a Palestinian expatriate scamming a visiting boxing coach in a nightlife area.
The recent Asian Games hosted by Jakarta and Palembang exceeded all expectations of success, despite some initial problems with ticketing and a few thefts. The spirit of friendship, rather than unpleasant tribalism, between nations was glorious to behold.
For example, on the final day of games at the Rugby Sevens, rival athletes mingled happily and posed for photos with spectators. Korean team analysts set a great example to the host nation by picking up and binning all of their rubbish. The Afghan team shared their national bread and their meals.
Inevitably, there were some minor incidents that blemished the Asian Games. Such as the scamming of the boxing coach of the United Arab Emirates, an Egyptian national named Muhamed Ibrahim Mawad.
On the night of August 23, he had gone to Taman Lokasari in West Jakarta for a meal and to buy a charger for his mobile phone. Lokasari, located alongside Jalan Mangga Besar, is known for its mobile phone stores and nightclubs.
At about 8.30pm, at the counter of a mobile phone store, he was befriended by a Palestinian expatriate, who claimed to be a Jordanian. Police identified the man only by his initials as MMH.
MMH offered to show Muhamed some of the local nightlife attractions. Muhamed was reluctant, as he wanted to charge his phone’s battery. MMH urged him to leave the phone, as well as his team jacket and bag at the phone shop, while they went out to see some sights.
Muhamed agreed to the plan. According to police, they entered a taxi and went to the Malio nightclub, but Muhamed declined to enter the premises. Next, they went to Classic Hotel in Pasar Baru, and the Egyptian again declined to enter.
MMH then reportedly asked Muhamed for some money to pay for the taxi. Muhamed, apparently lacking sufficient local currency, took US$100 to a nearby money changer and exchanged it for rupiah. When he came back to the taxi, MMH had gone.
Unable to communicate with the taxi driver, Muhamed was in a difficult situation. Eventually, he managed to return to Lokasari. He went back to the phone shop, only to be informed “his friend” had been there earlier and collected Muhamed’s phone, jacket and bag containing US$300.
Muhamed reported the theft to the local police precinct at Taman Sari. Police examined some CCTV footage. One week later, at about 11pm on August 30, they arrested the Palestinian at Lokasari and recovered the stolen items.
Muhamed has since left Indonesia, so the case is now being handled by police, Immigration and the UAE Embassy. MMH faces up to four years in jail if charged with fraud and theft.
Police said the Palestinian man had arrived in Indonesia in 2014 and worked as an activist in the social sector. They said he learned to speak Indonesian and often committed crimes, including extortion involving sharp weapons. He was once incarcerated at Jakarta’s Salemba jail for crimes against Indonesians.
Winning with Food & Football
At the opening ceremony of the Asian Games, the cheers were loudest for the 25-member Palestinian team, which unfortunately failed to win any medals.
One Palestinian who excelled at the Asian Games was Emad Alamad. He’s not an athlete or a coach. Instead, he ran a food outlet called Palestina Street Food inside the culinary zone at Bung Karno Stadium. He has lived in Indonesia for four years and has been selling food here for the past two years. Having an Indonesian wife made it easier for him to get permission to operate at the Asian Games.
His stall was a big hit with Indonesians, who are sympathetic to the plight of the Palestinians facing aggression from Israel. He was able to sell about 300 kebabs a day at the Asian Games. A chicken kebab sold for Rp40,000, while a beef or mixed kebab was Rp45,000. Those are higher than his usual prices, but he said cost of renting a booth during the Games was very expensive.
Palestine did well in the men’s football, coming second in its group stage with wins over Laos and Indonesia, and draws with Chinese Taipei and Hong Kong; only to be knocked out by Syria in the elimination stage. Palestine did not field a team for women’s football or any other women’s events.
Nas Daily Denied Entry
One of the most prominent Palestinians in cyberspace is travel vlogger Nuseir Yassin, who posts 1-minute travel videos each day to his Facebook page Nas Daily. He was educated at Harvard and holds an Israeli passport. Many Indonesians are surprised to learn that about 20% of Israelis are Arabs.
The infectiously positive and smiling Yassin recently travelled to Singapore to go through the convoluted process of applying for a visa to Indonesia, only to be rejected by Indonesian Immigration. This meant he had an extended stay in Singapore, where his slick, informative videos about the island state went viral, racking up millions of views.
Yassin on August 31 posted on Facebook a special message to Indonesia, lamenting the rejection of his visa application. “For a Palestinian-Israeli like me, it’s not easy. You have to go through a special visa process and a ton of paper to apply. I followed the whole process, step by step. Exactly as the guidelines suggested. Only to hear earlier today that my application was rejected. I don’t know why. But I am guessing it has something to do with my Israeli passport. Even if I am a Palestinian Muslim. I still was told that I’m not allowed to enter. Let this post be the answer to the nice people who ask me to come to Indonesia. I seriously honestly wanted to. I wanted to show the world the beauty of Indonesia in the most apolitical, pure way possible. But sadly that won’t be possible on Nas Daily. At least not with the current state of things. This is not goodbye. This is see you later. I am sure one day we will all meet.”
Indonesian Immigration spokesman Agung Sampurno confirmed Yassin’s visa application was rejected but denied the decision was because of his Israeli passport. He said it was merely an administrative process and that Yassin is welcome to re-apply for entry.
When playing the anti-Israel card, Indonesia would be wise to remember that plenty of Israeli passport holders are Palestinian Muslims. Keeping out scammers and muggers would be better than denying entry to inspirational, apolitical youths. The friendly spirit of the Asian Games should be maintained, especially if Indonesia wants to host the Olympics.