When Steve Stein first broached the idea of bolstering ties between Israel and
Indonesia – the world’s largest Muslim country, and one with no official
diplomatic relations with the Jewish state – he often met with the same
“People told me it will never happen – don’t waste your time,”
Stein recalled as he spoke to The Jerusalem Post this week.
But that was
in 1992, predating even Israel’s official peace accord with the Hashemite
Kingdom of Jordan, which was signed two years later.
“In those days,”
Stein said of Israel’s relationship with the Arab and larger Muslim world,
“there was [Israel’s 1979 peace accord with] Egypt, and then there was everyone
But Stein didn’t let that stop him.
The same year, he
arrived in the Indonesian capital of Jakarta for the first time and began sowing
the seeds of what has become a nearly 20- year venture.
“I started with a
vision to try and make a difference,” Stein said.
“To try and change
perceptions by engaging people.”
Using that vision, Stein’s efforts over
the past two decades have included successful attempts to increase trade as well
as to boost medical cooperation between the Indonesian health services and
Israel’s Rambam Hospital and Magen David Adom.
But none of this has been
easy. “I’ve poured my life into this over nearly two decades,” Stein said,
“because I know that it’s for the benefit of both the Indonesian people and the
people of Israel.”
Stein’s first real break came in 1997 when, after five
years of shuttling between Tel Aviv and Jakarta, he became a consultant to an
Indonesian state-owned insurance company, Asuransi Jasindo, and was tasked with
promoting trade and investments between Israeli and Indonesian
Less than three years later, in February 2000, those efforts
paid off when Indonesian Minister of Industry and Trade Yusuf Kalla removed all
commercial barriers in the private sector between the two countries, and
companies in Indonesia and Israel began trading with one another
A month later, the first bilateral protocol agreement was
signed between Asuransi Jasindo and Assure Ltd. of Israel, providing export
credit insurance for importers and exporters from both countries.
same month, Asuransi Jasindo announced it was opening its first international
representative office in Israel.
The following years saw the continued
loosening of trade restrictions between the two countries – including joint
agreements between several Israeli and Indonesian banks – and in 2003, the
removal of required import licenses on most products imported from Indonesia and
Malaysia to Israel.
As the trade doors continued to open, however, Stein
and his Indonesian counterparts were caught off guard by the massive destruction
the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami wreaked on Indonesia’s coastal
“It was at that point that the poor state of Indonesia’s
humanitarian and health services became so tragically apparent,” Stein
Indonesia had the highest death toll of all the countries affected
by the tsunami, with the final number of fatalities resting at between 130,000
and almost 170,000 people.
Stein was asked to facilitate Israel’s
humanitarian response, and immediately began arranging landing permits and
logistical support for the storage and distribution of aid packages – including
baby food, medicine, blankets, rice, sugar, bottled water, water-purifying
machines, communication devices and more.
“All of it was donated by the
people and private sector of Israel,” Stein stressed.
“Israel was one of
the first countries to offer assistance,” he added. “And two weeks after the
first waves had hit shore, we successfully airlifted 75 tons of humanitarian aid
to a designated airport in Indonesia.”
While Stein’s efforts in the
business sector continued, he increasingly began to shift his focus toward the
humanitarian and social challenges facing Indonesia, where nearly 20 percent of
its almost 250 million inhabitants live below the poverty
“Indonesia needed medical training – that became apparent during
the tsunami,” Stein said. “And Israel has some of the best medical services the
world can offer.”
Additionally, Stein added, Israeli medical personnel
have expertise in the treatment of mass casualties – a jarring but realistic
outcome of the country’s own history with terror attacks and
“While Israel has learned to deal with mass casualties for
[its] own reasons, Indonesians suddenly saw the huge importance of it as well,”
So in 2006, Prof. Aryono Pusponegoro, president of
Indonesia’s surgeons association and chairman of more than 100 of the country’s
emergency ambulance services, was invited to Israel by Magen David Adom – an
event Stein helped facilitate.
“During his visit, Pusponegoro attended a
national drill that simulated a major terror attack with mass casualties,
featuring the participation of police, firefighters, military, air force and MDA
emergency ambulance services,” Stein said.
“It was a big success,” he
added. “And we decided to begin promoting similar efforts as well.”
2008, 23 doctors from throughout Indonesia arrived in Tel Aviv for a two-week
workshop with MDA personnel on the “Management of Multi- Casualty Incidents.”
During the workshop, the doctors learned about Israel’s EMS services, as well as
new methods to provide better, faster medical care to their
From there, MDA began increasing its cooperation with
Indonesia’s medical services, and later that year it signed an agreement in Tel
Aviv with Indonesian medical representatives that would boost MDA’s involvement
in training Indonesian paramedics – both in Israel and in Indonesia.
with all these developments continuing to unfold, Stein said he had no plans of
“My vision is to continue working with private fundraisers
and NGOs, in both countries and overseas, who share the same vision and who have
faith in our abilities to create better understanding between the people of
Indonesia and Israel,” Stein said.
“In the case of Indonesia, I have seen
with my own eyes how these efforts are helping people on the ground, in
communities across the country,” he asserted. “It’s worked. It’s proven to be
beneficial for both Indonesia and Israel, and I believe it will only continue to
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