Talks with Pashtuns refugees from Afghanistan
Dr. Eyal Be’eri
Illuminate the Pashtun-Israeli connection point
Following extensive recent research, it can be said that the study of the Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the Pathans in India, does indeed deal with the remains of another Jewish exile. Although the sages of Israel chose to leave this exile beyond Sambatyon and the Mountains of Darkness, at that time, vibrant communities sprang up across the Hindu-Afghan space that established sultans, scientists, society and the spirit, who ruled the area for over a thousand years. The Pashtuns, of all the population groups claiming the crown of the lost tribes, are ostensibly the most proven group, for, apart from self-definition as “Israelites”, chronological sources and ancient genealogies, there are also remnants of customs different from Muslim customs, but consistent with the customs of The Jewish people, when recently all of these were joined by DNA tests that confirm this.
The importance of the Pashtuns study is not only theoretical, but allows us Israelis, building a bridge to those communities, a bridge of the bride, according to their self-definition and in the trend of making friends among Islamic circles.
It is evident that most of the Pashtun communities forgot their identity; therefore, we must establish the relationship with those who are interested and initiate future activities with them. It seems that it is not enough to illuminate the Pashtun-Israeli point alone, but it is appropriate to delve deeper into all areas of the narrative, in accordance with the inter-tribal and intra-family information from generation to generation. My request to develop a media channel brought me to Switzerland to listen to the story of Afghan refugees who were rescued from the Taliban. Among the refugees there were those who treated me with suspicion, others claimed to have been instructed to refrain from contact with the media, but there were some who sailed in their memories, back to their childhood districts, to the life they had, to identity struggles and fear of the unknown and threatening present. I would like to thank my interviewees for the hospitality they gave me, it was an honor for me to listen to all those stories, parts of which are presented here in front of you.
Wandering across space
In the afternoon, near the hotel, I noticed a bunch on the black marble stones, warming up in the rays of the sun rising beyond the Alps. It turns out that they crossed on foot from the mountains of Afghanistan to Shiite Iran, from there to Turkey, Greece, Albania and Central Europe. At each station they stayed for a few days, were given accommodation, food and drink, but were refused a political asylum. Only the Swiss government has agreed to sponsor them. At first I encountered suspicion on their part, which was also accompanied by a lot of unrest. They recounted that many of their friends did not survive and that the local guides robbed them of their money and left them at the mountain passes, to continue moving towards the unknown.
One of them suffered from uncontrollable convulsions in his face, another went with an old voice recorder, listening to a tape that sounded lamentations in the Pushto language. The whole group was overgrown with hair and dressed in old, incompatible clothes. The refugees stressed that despite being Muslims, their Arabness is not a biological figure and Islam was forced upon them in some historical era, probably by the Umayyad fighters in 661 CE or the Abbas house fighters in 750 AD. When I asked what their identities were in the days before the arrival of Islam, they replied that it was possible and there were Aryans, an immigrant community that emerged from the Iranian plateau and settled in the Hindu Valley in the 15th century BC, or the descendants of Alexander the Great (356-323 BC) and some stressed They are among the descendants of “Bnei Yisrael”. After raising this option, they suddenly got up and left, the last one left apologized because they now have a sports lesson. Asraf, after I promised him full confidentiality, was among those who hated to be interviewed. When we met, my feeling was that before me was a lamb in a lion costume, a man wearing thick armor underneath a cloak of softness. Below is a little of his story, which is one micro-example of our brother Pashtuns in the shadow of the Taliban.
Sweets are childhood years from a goblet of wine
First of all, Asraf said, I would like to send a greeting of peace and love to my brothers and sisters in Israel and thank you for this interview. My family belongs to the Yusuf-Zai tribe, living in Bonner district, west of Peshawar, the capital of Khyber province. One of my childhood memories, is related to my grandmother. During the winter days, when the stars are well visible, she came up to the roof of the house with us, gestured to a group of stars and asked if we could count a group of twelve stars. When the stars were located she explained that the star of the prophet Jacob peace be upon him stood there on the side, with the mediator of Joseph’s star whose brothers threw him into the well. My grandmother was never in school, but every night before bed she told us about King Suleiman, Joseph and Jacob. Her mother told her these stories, she said, and they are passed down from generation to generation.
I was about eight years old when I started taking an active part in the “khosay” game, which means “the young calf”. The winner must bring down the opponent, with the right hand continuing to grip the toes of the left foot without being detached, since separating the hand from the foot means a loss. Only young boys are allowed to participate in a game that sometimes becomes quite violent, my nasal bone remains broken as a result of the game to this day. When I turned fourteen, I became too big to keep playing because we usually played on the roofs of houses and it is not appropriate for a teenage boy to stay on the roof, not to fail to see a woman in the yard.
Grandpa sent me to study in a Taliban madrasa. I thought to myself that these Taliban are straight-line Muslims and that I am expected to learn from them the way of Islam. When the tragedy of 9/11 occurred, I was in class 7 and still thought I should join the Taliban and fight against America. Luckily, my family wanted me to be a doctor, they thought that Taliban education was not enough and I had to study general studies and be involved in the political life of those days. In parallel with my studies at Madrasa, I joined the P.S.O movement (Pashtun Student Organization) and divided my time between memorizing the Koran, youth games, activities in the youth movement and reading literature about the Pashtun people . The guides told about King Khan Abdul Jafar Khan and the friendship between him and Mahatma Gandhi and introduced him as the subject of the freedom flag of the Pashtun people. He visited Israel in 1926, documented his journey, sought to study closely the causes of the Israeli-Arab rift and, sadly, was forced to bury his wife in Jerusalem. He was exemplary in the eyes of the man, and like many, I too went in his light and joined the Pakistani A.N.P (Awami National Party) movement.
While studying in a madrasa, I took a shotgun that my grandfather brought with him from a distant place. I rode to the mountains to hunt birds and not long after, I became an excellent sniper. When my grandfather noticed this, he turned to me calmly and said that there are two ways in my life, good and bad, in whatever way I choose the results will be accordingly, therefore I must immediately return the shotgun to his place. Just as the prophet Jacob, peace be upon him, met Rachel at the well and fell in love with her, so too did our own ancestors meet their love. Near the well, many love stories were woven and melodramatic poetry was composed, which has been preserved within the Pashtun culture from generation to generation. In high school I met a girl and courted her quite a bit. Her family rejected my marriage application on the grounds that I was too young. I was very sad about it, I loved the girl very much, but when I think about it today, it all happened when I was in ninth grade. I had to go on a long journey until I found my wife.
In the center of the village was a small grocery store. Every day in the afternoon, the villagers were there. One of the elderly villagers, nicknamed ‘Gol-da’ which means “flower of love”, wanted to raise the quality of these meetings a little and started telling us stories. Among other things, he told about a king named Malik-Talut, King Shaul ben Kish. This king was taller than all his people, lived many years ago in a distant land called Palestine, came from the tribe of Benjamin and was the first king of the “Beni-Israel”. Gol-da was the first, from which I heard, that say that our ancestors came from the tribe of Benjamin. I carry this identity on my with pride, and believe in it with complete faith. My grandfather worked in the city of Mumbai until August 1947, the date of the independence of India and Pakistan. At this point the grandfather is required to decide whether to return to the village and lose his job, or to stay in Mumbai and lose the chance to return to his estate. The decision was made and Grandpa returned home. He later worked in the city of Karachi until my birth, the eldest son of my parents. At this point my grandfather quit his job, returned to the village to take care, along with my parents, of my education.
If my grandfather had not returned home, we would have moved with him to India and it is possible that we would have been more advanced there. But life in the tribal area helped me to preserve our identity, language and customs, while in India all of these were lost to me within the free culture. Grandpa was a liberal man, believed in modernity, sought to incorporate ancient religiosity into contemporary education and recognized in the speech of truth a central value. One morning I told him that I was sick and could not go to school. I’m afraid you’re lying, he replied, and I’ll take you to the doctor right away. If you lie again I will never believe you. The fear that I would find a lie caused me to get organized and go on with my daily activities.
I learned a great deal from my grandparents when it came to family history and personal identity shaping. My grandfather passed away in 2012 at the age of 98 and his portrait will forever be etched on my heart. Even the memory of my grandmother, who passed away at the age of 93 about a week before you came here, I respect very much and still cannot grasp that she is not with me. The presence of the Taliban prevented me from returning to my home and taking part in the funeral of both of them and I will probably forever feel that no farewell We really parted, as respect they deserve. Many of my relatives were found dead in the Taliban days, they were taken under various pretexts and did not return home and we do not know to this day their burial place.
The attitude of the community towards the Mula
My grandfather’s uncle was A Pashtun Mula and was also clever man. My grandmother’s father was also Mula. My madrasa teacher, who was a Taliban man, also served as an imam in our village. He had a great personality and I learned a lot from him. He had a liberal worldview and was playing cricket with us. He too was a Pashtun like us, not some Arab who came from Saudi Arabia. In Swat, another Pashtun province, also located in the tribal area, the story was different. Most of the clerics are of Arab descent and belong to the Sayyid caste, the caste that has its roots in Saudi Arabia and the family of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. The members of the Sayyid caste are neither barbaric nor corrupt, they joined us about 500 years ago, during the Mogul rule, are a respectable part of our community and we maintain a stable relationship with them, including marital ties.
The Mula duty In Swat was to teach children to read the Holy Koran and declare the time of prayer. He was not allowed to take any part in the activities of the Jirga, the council of sages of the village. The onlooker would notice deep contempt to these clerics and their tendency to distance themselves from any key communal position. Prior to the founding of Pakistan there was no standard for clerics within Pashtun society, and only those who deserved it filled the duti. After 1947, following amendments to the constitution, the relative ease of obtaining the post allowed for the presence of corrupt clerics and the entry of terrorist organizations into the mosques.
I left my parents’ home and homeland about ten years ago, flew to the UK and earned my degree at the University of Birmingham. There is no sense of security in the educational institutions in our homeland. In 2018, the Taliban massacred 150 children while in school. Knowledgeable people threaten the very existence of the Taliban and so many students have also lost their lives as part of the removal of this ridiculous threat. At that time I was indeed thirsty for knowledge and really wanted to improve my English. When I finished my degree, the Taliban entered Bonner. Unlike my grandfather, the return option seemed to be closed to me. Although I still had the right to return home, for the sake of family safety I preferred not to do so. I left Britain and became a Pashtun refugee on Swiss soil.
About Taliban-Pashtun connection
It was important for the interviewees to emphasize that there is no connection between them and the Taliban. This is a central narrative for them, since the Taliban was founded by Arabs, and everyone who comes in contact with them becomes an Arab. But there does seem to be a certain Taliban-Pashtun connection. Although the Taliban nucleus, which began operations in 1995, received assistance from the Arab leadership in Saudi Arabia and Qatar, quite a few Taliban of Arab descent married Pashtun women. Also, many of the inhabitants of the Pashtun villages agreed to join the Taliban, to take action hoping to return home safely, with the service money under them, but it is important to emphasize that only a few of the Pashtun tribes made regular contact with the Taliban and remained soldiers in the service of terrorism and became commanders.
Those who want to create a rift between the Pashtun and the Taliban are ignoring the fact that there are about 40 million Pashtuns in Pakistan, about 25 million in Afghanistan and around 100 million in the whole world. The Taliban in Afghanistan numbers around 60,000 terrorists alone. So the Taliban make up a fairly small percentage of the Pashtuns, but the Pashtuns are scared and quite paralyzed by the Taliban and as of this writing, no significant rebellion response is observed among the Pashtuns. It is worth remembering that the Pashtun is an integral part of the liberalization process that has plagued the entire world in recent centuries. Pashtun sultans ruled the Hindu-Afghan region from the 10th century, built luxury palaces in Lahore and Delhi with precious marble slabs imported from Italy, erected magnificent madrasas for human sciences. Since Baghdad fell to the Mongols in the 13th century, the Pashtuns sultans made Delhi and its environs the center of Eastern education, in a process parallel to that of Jews in medieval Spain, a renaissance that began in 14th-century Italy and the stream of education and freedom of expression that plagued post-revolutionary in France.
It should not be forgotten that in 1497 Vasco da- Gama brought European Portugal to India, followed by the French, the Dutch, the Danes and the British. The Europeans, in their presence, influenced the sultans of Delhi and the entire Afghan-Hindu space. These processes encouraged intercultural fusion and Delhi in Asia was identified as Rome and Paris. The Pashtun ruler Sher Shah Suri in the 16th century, is undoubtedly one of the best among them, also the Jewish-Sufi poet Sarmad Kashani. The emperors of the Ludhi dynasties and the Mughals, whose lineage flowed in their veins, also moved in this spirit. So did the Pashtun leaders in the Indo-Afghan space, such as Abdul Gafar Khan and others, in the 19th and 20th centuries. The British who ruled this area for over 300 years were well aware of Pashtun’s talents and even tried to exploit the process to their advantage. The Pashtun sultans gave the Hindu-Afghan space bridal capacity and intercultural merging without blurring the foundations of origin. This is the nature of Pashtun liberalism at its best, and in that it is so different and utterly incomparable to Taliban terrorism that it is all about destroying and losing every cultural spark.
The physical condition of the Pashtuns
Living in the shadow of the new regime makes the situation worse as time goes on. The Taliban gives preference to people with a similar ideology, especially to Imams, Qadis, Mulas, Madrasa graduates and all the fighters in their ranks. Those who oppose the Taliban are in a bad situation. Most of them are persecuted, including military personnel, administrative staff, faculty members, academics and social activists. After being fired, most of them encounter a disparaging, degrading and abusive attitude and many of them, including women and children, are executed. Our economic situation was bad even before the Taliban returned to the arena. The banking system has now closed, as a result of which trade has shrunk and it is very difficult to obtain basic food products, except in the black market. If we do not get the help we need, the Afghan nation will have to deal with a humanitarian catastrophe.
A few weeks before they left, the refugees held a meeting attended by youths as well as community elders to reach some agreement with the Taliban, including stopping the harassment of young people working in the government, preventing their arrest and confiscating their cars. During the assembly, three policemen arrived, stopped and took a large group of young people with them and threatened the elders that if they met again, they would be executed. Many are now seeking to leave the county, all very uneasy. Many are hidden in different places, taking care of the family left in the cities and villages. Some try to escape, but most remain while refraining from making their voices heard, hoping they can return to their homes and help support the family. A few days ago I met a kid who sold his clothes to buy some food. Another sold his phone because I did not have enough money to buy himself something to eat and no one really knows what will happen the next day.
Education under the Taliban
The Taliban completely oppose the education of girls and do not allow women to go out to work. The freedoms that women knew, are taken from them, in a way that talented women are locked inside the house, without the ability to express their skills. The Taliban has appointed a committee to review textbooks in schools. The committee wondered why the books of physics and chemistry do not mention celebrities from Muslim history, for example the great physician Ibn Sina. This is despite the fact that Ibn Sina also did not believe in the mullahs and there are clerics who believe that he was an infidel. Although private universities have started teaching, public universities are still closed, even girls’ schools are locked and the understanding that culturally, Afghanistan is in the process of going backwards is slowly seeping within the people.
The excited request of Ms. Kaussar Habibi, the former head of the Gender Department of Afghanistan, who is currently hiding from the Taliban terror, for political asylum in Europe or Israel, still resonates in the media. A request that is currently unanswered from any direction. This call joins another rescue call that came to me from a Pashtun student: “As a young man, I ask you to help me in education. I am an orphan student and I cannot continue my studies at university because I have not yet paid tuition. I have to manage on my own, but I cannot spend a day without studying. As an Afghan young man, I call on you to understand the distress “And take part in this charity. Please, do not let a burning torch fall on our country. I want to study higher education in political science. If you can help me with any amount and save a person’s life in the world, I really appreciate it …”.
He later wrote: “I think the embassies that are here can give me a visa and get me out of my country.” And even addressed in writing to the various embassies to strive for him and his comrades, but so far without any success. As part of my search for appropriate assistance for him, I asked my friends in India and Europe to help the Afghans in their distress. Most of the responses were completely ignored, but few responded that they had to take care of their family members first. I was deeply impressed by the devotion of this student for the sake of his friends and refugees towards their mentally ill, exhausted and mentally handicapped comrades, as an integral part of their commitment to the Pashtun constitution. Like them, I also believe that salvation will eventually be found for all those young men and women, and that all those allies who were rescued at the time to save the Jewish people from the Nazi extermination machine, will now band together to save the Pashtuns and all Afghans from the same ring of terror tightening around their necks.
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