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Impressions from the Visit of the First Ever Pathan/Pashtun Delegation to Israel

By Eyal Be’eri 

Editor’s Note: Eyal Be’eri gives an account of the visit of the first ever Pathan/Pashtun delegation to Israel. The delegation consisted of members of Anjuman al-Pathān, an organization that claims to represent the Pathans/Pashtuns of India. Pathans/Pashtuns/Pakhtuns are terms used interchangeably for the world’s largest conglomeration of warlike tribes, all Muslim, in northeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. They have a diaspora in India, where they settled in different waves of migration during the Muslim rule there. Their age old tradition of Israelite origin, which finds mention in texts written by Jewish, Christian and Muslim scholars alike, is fast getting eroded in their new generation as a result of the rapidly spreading Wahabi/Salafi influence. Several Jewish scholars right from the ninth century have believed Afghanistan to be the place where the ten lost tribes of Israel settled. There have also been a couple of attempts to confirm their putative Israelite connection through DNA analysis. The delegation visited Israel from 15th to 25th November 2015 at the invitation of Amishav, a Jewish Israeli organization dedicated to the search for the remnants of the lost tribes of Israel. The author, Eyal Be’eri, was the local guide to the delegation.

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Throughout the course of history, there are moments that are hidden by fog, so to speak, moments when more is unknown than is known, and the future is beyond our visibility. So too, when the Pathan delegation first landed in Israel in the middle of November, the weather in Tel Aviv was grim, and like a cloud of flour dust in a bakery, a great question mark loomed over the nature of this visit.

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 Baha’i Gardens

What was the purpose of this visit? As I awaited the entry of my four guests by gate 32 at the Ben-Gurion International Airport, I took some time to ponder the question. The delegates were the guests of Amishav, organization for the “Dispersed of Israel”, and had been invited in order to facilitate the beginning of a friendship between Anjuman al-Pathan in Rajasthan, and Amishav. I was hopeful right from the beginning that the building of this bridge would generate goodwill on both sides in making it possible to take further steps to mutually enrich the knowledge about the connection between the groups, and contemplate new avenues of cooperation.

The delegation had four members: Col. (Retd.) Abdul-Rasul Khan, President of Anjuman al-Pathan, Hasan Muhammad Khan, an affluent businessman, Vice President of the organisation; Gul-Hasan Khan, a senior police official, who has been researching the Pathan historical and genealogical connection to Israel for many years; and Naved Hasan Khan, a young doctor, interning at a hospital.

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 Sea of Galilee

There was slight apprehension about possible difficulties that could arise upon landing, as our guests bore Islamic names and Sunni identity. The border inspectors at the airport had never heard of the Pathans, and were completely unaware that they identify themselves for generations as descendants of the Tribes of Israel. But luckily, at their interrogation our guests knew to quote Afghan and Persian chronicles, as well as ancient Pathan genealogical records, which state that they are from the tribe of Benjamin, and descendants of King Saul and the 7th century Pathan king, Qais Abd al-Rashid, an Israelite. They also explained that they have some customs that are similar to the Jewish ones. “We have come to learn about our history as Sons of Israel,” Col. Abdul-Rasul told the customs/border security official. He was impressed by the sincerity of the delegation, and let all four finally get their baggage.

When we finally met, they seemed tired from the long flight, but I could sense their enthusiasm for the journey. The first rays of sunlight greeted us in the east as we entered Jerusalem, just as the newscaster declared on the radio that the weather would be pleasant, with no rain in the coming days.

After breakfast, our guests caught up on their sleep. In the afternoon we took a short tour of the National Library. We visited the Shalom Reading Hall, where our guests heard an explanation about the connection between the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, and the myth of the future gathering of the ten lost tribes. Then we viewed samples from the Cairo Genizah and the Afghani Genizah, which tell many a tale about the lives of Jewish and Karaite communities in the Hindu-Afghani geographical realm.

In the following days, we spent our time learning about the Biblical eras of conquest and settlement, and the Kingdoms of Judea and Israel. We visited historic sites along “The Road of the Forefathers”, among them the cities of Be’er Sheba, Hebron, Jerusalem, Beth El, Shiloh, Elon Moreh, and Nabulus (Shechem). We also visited Jericho and climbed Masada, saw the Dead Sea Scrolls in the Kumaran caves, and in their current home of the last 60 years, the Shrine of the Book.

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With the chairman of the Knesset, Mr. Yolly Edelstein

Beside the stories of the Patriarchs, we met the stories of the biblical prophets. From the life, death and burial of Moses on Mount Nevo, to the tomb of Joshua in Kfar-Heres, from the war of Deborah against the army of Sisrah at the Kishon stream, to the Tomb of Samuel the Seer. As we were at this last site, our guests met the dancing Breslov Hasidim. As they joined the dance, I thought, that now, just as then, 3000 years ago, Samuel has merited the gathering of the elders of Judah and Benjamin under his roof.

The Colonel stated to us how he was impressed with the physical cleanliness of the land, the gardens, the clean air, and the quiet and peaceful streets. As we rode on “the Road of the Forefathers”, he voiced how surprised he was at the sight of the empty mountains along the road. “I thought the Palestinians have no place to build their houses, but now I see that there is plenty of empty space”. The olive harvest, the rows of grapevines, and the Palestinian homes along the road to Hebron, all made a great impression on the delegates.

On Friday morning, the delegates ascended to Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa Mosque. They stayed on the mount for over three hours, toured, prayed, and listened to the khutba, the Friday sermon, given in Arabic, by Imam Ra’id al-Dan. After the sermon, we all went to taste the atmosphere of preparation for the Jewish Sabbath in the Mahane-Yehudah marketplace, as we tasted the different delicacies, the stuffed vegetables, the pastries, the Knafeh and the Kubeh.

Toward the evening on our way to the meal at the hotel’s restaurant, we stopped by the trays of colorful Sabbath candles. I was told that the candles are called Chiragha in their native tongue, a word very reminiscent of the word Shraga, or candle in Aramaic. This was but one example of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic words embedded in their Urdu native tongue. During the meal we discussed the dealings of Patriarch Jacob with his brother Esau: the buying of the birthright, stealing the blessings, and the creation of the family and tribes of Israel. Do the ancient texts contain the secrets of the future? Are the events of 3,500 years ago archetypes of similar events that happen nowadays?

Naved requested to go out and see the nightlife of Jerusalem. As we were sipping hot drinks to warm ourselves up on the cool night, Naved told me that he couldn’t understand how the people living in Israel could go on thriving, while you have so many enemies out to destroy you. I asked what he meant. He recalled the visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. He asked “How is it that you suffered so much, but Hitler died without a worthy punishment”? I was about to answer, but the horror and pain on Naved’s face stopped me. I pressed his hand, and paid respect to his storm of emotions. At the table next to us, we heard off-duty soldiers laughing loudly, their rifles draped around their necks, ready to stop any would-be knife wielding assailant. I brought his attention to what was going on around us. “Look, the nation is alive. We travel between resurrection and destruction and resurrection again. This current resurrection is the fiercest answer we can give to all those who plot against us. We received this resurrection on a silver platter from God, by merit of the courage of our forefathers till this day”.

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At the Karaite Synagogue

A calm and pleasant Indian smile lit Naved’s face, and it was apparent that this answer quieted his inner storm a bit. We came back to the hotel at an hour past midnight, our teeth chattering from the cold night. A lazy Sabbath morning awaited me, but Naved was to embark in a few hours on a trip to Masada, and encounter another chapter of destruction and resurrection of our nation.

Throughout history there are moments hidden by fog, when more is unknown than is known. Sometimes history is just like Swiss cheese, with more holes than information. But after eleven days of journey, our visibility was better, and during the summary meeting, each member of the delegation expressed this eloquently in his own words. Hasan talked about the historic importance of the visit, how after thousands of years of absence, the Children of Israel gather in Jerusalem for prayer, touring, learning and enjoying.

Gul-Hasan spoke of a feeling of connection of the soul that he had to the city of Jerusalem and to the tombs of the Prophet Samuel and King David.

Dr. Naved expressed a deep feeling of belonging, and a wish to learn and delve deeper into the secret. He felt this secret both at the different sites, and as he went out to hear the different languages on the lively streets.

And Col. Abdul-Rasul summarized that we must all encourage and nourish the growing connection between Anjuman al-Pathan and Amishav. He stressed the importance of spreading the legacy of the “Sons of Israel” to the Pathans, and the Pathan legacy here in Israel. He declared that the nation of Israel lives on, and that the friendship between Amishav and the Anjuman, is not merely a companionship, but a blood relation being sown together again after thousands of years of separation, and that we are all one family of distant brothers uniting after all these years.

Author:
Eyal Be’eri is studying the Pathans in India and their genealogical accounts for his doctoral research at Ariel University, Israel.

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For more stories, read Café Dissensus Everyday, the blog of Café Dissensus Magazine.

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