Growing up in one of the world’s most conservative countries, Afghanistan, my sentiments as a child towards Israel were the same as my fellow Afghans. There was utter hatred for Israel throughout the country. Our religious scholars, teachers, peers and friends associated terms like “Zionists” and “Jewish Lobby,” whose meaning many of us didn’t even understand, with Israel and the Jewish people. Almost every terrorist attack in a Muslim country anywhere in the world would be linked directly with the Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, as if the Mossad was the sole conspirator against Muslims.
My curiosity about the intense hostility towards Jews and Israel led me travel to Israel and Palestine. On March 3rd, despite my acute awareness that travel of any sort to Israel is taboo in many Muslims countries, I headed to Tel Aviv from Stockholm with my Afghan Passport and an Israeli visa that was issued at the Israel embassy in Sweden. Upon arriving at Ben-Gurion Airport, due to security concerns, I too was asked to sit in a “waiting hall” filled with travelers from both Muslim and non-Muslim countries, including France, Germany, and even the United States.
Traveling with my Afghan passport and hailing from a country with which Israel has no diplomatic relations, it was obvious to me that I should anticipate hours of interrogation and heavy screening. My friends warned me that they might not let you in and even deport you directly from the airport.
None of which was true.
After a fifteen minute wait, a woman came to the waiting room and asked me to follow her to another room. She asked one question: “What’s the purpose of your travel to Israel, sir?” I answered that I had come to conduct research as a part of my Minor Field Study program through Stockholm University, Sweden. She then asked me to wait outside the room. A short while later, a man with a smile on his face came with my passport and said, “Welcome to Israel, enjoy your stay.” I peacefully and respectably passed through all airport security with my visa.
Lately, I have been wondering why Afghanistan doesn’t have diplomatic ties with Israel. I can’t think of a single rational reason for having no diplomatic relations. Passports of many Muslim countries even — and often explicitly –bar citizens from any sort of travel to Israel and Palestine, whether the purpose is academic, research, trade, tourism or visit to revered religious sites.
I believe that the reasons for hatred of Israel in many Muslim countries including Afghanistan are deeply rooted in the heavy religious influence on the educational curriculum taught at the kind of schools and universities I went to growing up. The Friday prayer sermons in almost every mosque I attended contained curses on Israel and all Jews. In my opinion, praying for the death of millions of innocent people is outrageous and absurd.
To be sure, there has been a great deal of tension between Israel and some Arab states due mainly to geopolitical interests and having to do with religion. How does that provide any justification for non-Arab states like Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and others to refuse to have any relationship with Israel?
We have come a long way and in the 21st Century in the civilized world, everyone must cooperate to secure not only a peaceful world for themselves but for the coming generations so that they can also live and coexist in peace. States need to put aside their differences and cooperate with each other and I don’t see any reason why Afghanistan should not have bilateral ties with Israel. It’s worth mentioning that some Muslim states like Turkey and Egypt, states that we in Afghanistan refer to as our brothers, have maintained friendly ties and have recognized the state of Israel.
Without getting into a debate over Israeli-Palestinian issues, if we really wish to see a peaceful Middle East then all Muslim states should step up and mediate dialogue between Palestinians and Israelis. But in order to do so, it’s important to reject and leave behind hate-filled curricula and initiate formal ties at every possible diplomatic level and recognize Israel.
So far, during my stay in Israel, I have encountered many amazing Jewish and Arab Israeli people and if we humans can be friends despite coming from different backgrounds, why can’t our countries? We should initiate relations with people here and at this stage let’s start with the people if not the government, and I hope one day relations among people will ultimately pave the way for diplomatic ties between Israel and Afghanistan and other Muslim countries, so that we can all live in peace and leave a better world for the coming generation.