It was nighttime when my plane landed in the Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport. I cannot describe my feelings when all passengers in the plane started clapping as they saw the lights of Tel Aviv from their windows. I did not clap, I froze and I had no idea how to celebrate my feelings. It was like someone made Aliyah and first time reached this new home. I was feeling like I was at home. I was in safe hands.
The process at the Airport went very smoothly and I was very pleasantly surprised when the head of Israeli immigration hugged me and escorted me outside the airport and said “Welcome to your home, Israel”.
My driver was waiting for me and he took me straight to my hotel in Herzliya. For the first time, I felt like I was among my people, no fear, no stress, no hiding my location from anyone, no more pain and no one looked like a stranger around me. I spent four days in Herzliya and participated in an International Counter -Terrorism Conference. I delivered my three speeches including the workshop speech and a keynote speech. I was one of the busiest people at the conference! It was like the TV and radio programs with i24 New , ILTV and CBN News were already ready to take me on air, and newspaper interviews were also ready to go. Every person was in a rush to hear my story and said it felt like an honour to take a picture with me. Those who knew I was from Pakistan hugged and welcomed me to Israel.
This was very unusual for me and the respect and honour I received was just phenomenal. There were world class celebrities from counter-terrorism (CT), and great writers, politicians, academics, professors, top level CT researchers, army and police servicemen, intelligence officers, including ex-Mossad chief Shabtai Shavit and ex-Shin Bet higher officer Asher Ben Artzi plus ICT students along with their lecturers. I learned a lot by attending their lectures and workshops at this conference. I met these people and made many great future contacts with them. It was a great opportunity to speak in front of the world’s CT pundits and this honour was given by my mentor, a founder of ICT and a great scholar of counter terrorism Professor Boaz GANOR. This credit goes to him. Thank you very much my friend.
I, as a founder of the Pakistan-Israel Alliance (PIA) in collaboration with the Zionist Federation UK, had helped arranged for a first ever Pakistani delegation to visit Israel. The delegation included Pakistani journalist Adnan KHAN, a Norwegian based Pakistani Waqas SARWER, my wife Farah QURESHI and my beautiful daughters Barirah QURESHI and Bayyinah QURESHI. The Zionist Federation UK funded this four-day trip.
I cannot adequately express our feelings when we entered and touched our hands to the Kotel (Western Wall); it brought tears in my eyes when I touched my head to the wall and prayed for the safety and security of the Jewish land. The feelings inside me were completely different from anything I had felt before and I do not have the words to be able to let the world know what peace came inside me.
We then went straight to Al Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount. It is a Muslim’s wish to pray in Al Aqsa before death and Allah the Almighty fulfilled our wish. When I first time saw Al Aqsa just few yards away from me, my feet froze in place and I could not move anymore. I just wanted to reach Al Aqsa and pray in the Haram Al Sharif, the most blessed mosque after those in Mecca and Medina. Finally, we prayed our Jummah (Friday Prayer) inside the Al Aqsa mosque. (For the record, there are 400 more mosques in Israel.)
We visited so many places and then we met many honorable people, including Fleur HASSAN, a Jerusalem city councilor, at her home. We had a delicious Shabbat dinner with them and a great talk. It was really so nice to see them praying together before and after the dinner. They made their religious tradition come alive for us. We spoke of the political conflict between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem. It was good to hear her and to for me to add and memories new information. One thing that really surprised us was that Fleur’s husband, Adam was familiar with the Urdu language and he spoke broken Urdu with us. It was just amazing. I say a heartfelt thank you, Fleur and Adam, and their family.
We visited a Muslim Israeli Arab leader, Ismail KHALDI, in his village. We met his parents and other family members. We had a fantastic lunch with them and discussed many issues the Muslim Arab community faces along with the benefits they get from the Israeli government. He explained to us the core issue of the conflict from their perspective. There are indeed some real issues between Arab Muslims and the Israeli government, but the Israeli government is very serious about resolving these issues. Muslim Arabs are in minority in Israel (about 20%) and they face the same types of problems as we Muslims and Jews face in the UK, but we and they also exercise the same rights and enjoy state benefits as the majorities do, including the right to vote and hold elective office, live where they wish, travel freely, attend the schools their parents choose, and to write and speak freely. The two things which inspired me very much were, an Israeli flag waving on the roof of the Ishmael’s house and that he is as Israeli as Jews are and there is no question of being a pro-Israel or anti-Israel. “We are Israelis and this is our identity” said Khaldi. You were so welcoming Ishmael Khaldi, and we thank you for your hospitality and for speaking about everything that affects your daily lives.
Koftan HALABI leads the Druze community we visited. He escorted us to his head office where he guided and taught us about their people, whose members of the IDF have sacrificed their precious lives to the land of Israel since its 1948 founding. Hundreds of the Druze people have lost their lives proudly protecting the Jewish State. May Allah bless them and may they rest in peace. Ameen
We went to their memorial where we observed a minute of silence as we honored those soldiers for their sacrifices, sacrifices which their country gratefully recognizes. Koftan took us to different places to show us more of the history of Israel. That evening, he arranged for us to have a very delicious dinner, one so delicious that we still sense the taste of the wonderful food. Koftan, we all thank you very much for what you do, for the efforts you are making for your people and for the rest of your country. We are really proud of you, my friend.
Our tour guide Joel MEYER and driver EDMOND surprised us by taking us to Haifa where they showed us one of the truly beautiful places in the world, the Baha’i World Centre with Shrine of Baha’u’llah on Mt. Carmel which has one of the most beautiful gardens we have seen. It was such an amazing moment to see the Haifa Port from the top of the hill and that sumptuous garden. It was an inspiring thing to truly see how Israeli government provides a full and protected space to every religious community, allowing them to practice their faith safely and without any fear. Thank you, Joel Meyer and Edmond for your company for those four beautiful days, we will always remember you.
Now I want to thank Ben HAREL and the Eastern Mediterranean International School (EMIS) very much. We had the enormous pleasure of going to and experiencing EMIS. What a great opportunity it was for us to visit this special educational institute where we saw students from 40 countries, studying, living, learning side by side and making friendships to last a lifetime. The issues of racism, discrimination or different ethnicities and religions were just not present. There were students from Israel, Gaza, Palestinian Authority, Morocco, China, Poland, Britain, the United States, South America, Spain, France, Afghanistan and soon Pakistan will join this group. There were no politics and no religious differentiation; all of the students were busy making their lives brighter in the future. Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists and secular students were living in peace and with love for each other. EMIS chairman Ben Harel and the rest of the EMIS administration have created a revolution and set an example for the rest of the world. People can live side by side, can learn together and not only can tolerate but accept each other with love and peace regardless of their political or religious affiliation and their language and ethnicity. The world should learn from the example provided by the EMIS and it can adapt the same formula for the rest of the people living in the conflict zone that education can merge everyone together in love and peaceful co-existence.
I must also honour IDF Major Karen HAJIOFF who took the time from her busy schedule to greet us at the dinner in Tel Aviv. She provided us with all the relevant information we would need about the IDF and its role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She answered all our questions very efficiently. She was one of the extra-intelligence officers in the IDF who was rapidly promoted after a very short period of service. I will surprise you by informing you that Karen is from London, migrated from the UK to Israel and happens to be the daughter of Dalia Hajioff of the Zionist Federation. Your time, energy and input was completely appreciated Karen. You gave us an accurate and information-filled report on the IDF. We enjoyed the chance to spend time with this excellent spokeswoman for the IDF.
The Zionist Federation UK worked so diligently to arrange this historic visit by the Pakistanis to Israel. It was not an easy task; the PIA and ZF-UK worked for many days and nights to make this visit happen and to be successful. We faced many issues and obstacles but finally succeeded. I have no words to say how much I wish to say thank you to the ZF-UK chairman Paul CHRNEY and ZF-UK Executive Director Arieh MILLER who provided funding, assistance and support in the UK and in Israel to accommodate our delegation and prevent problems especially at the Israeli Tel Aviv airport. The company and assistance given to us by Dalia HAJIOFF in Israel was remarkable and we will always remember it. Thank you very much again, Dalia for your personal help and cooperation. I want to recognize Arieh Miller for his great effort and for his time. Without your help, I could not have made this historic visit. Arieh was on his paternity leave but he worked day and night to arrange this visit and to make it very successful as it was the first ever Muslim trip from UK to Israel. This was time I knew that should be given to his newborn baby and wife. As they say in Israel, Mazel Tov to you and your family. Thank you very much Arieh and please pass my best wishes to your wife Tanya MILLER and blessings to your newborn angel.
Finally, I am especially thanking those whose names I do not remember but they brought honour to Israel and also to everyone I may have not named. It was also your tireless work that paid off in making this trip so fabulous, memorable and successful. We will continue to work together to arrange more such visits to Israel in the near future. This article is not the end of my writings about my trip and I will provide more information in my coming articles about my experience in Israel, the Israeli culture, her society and the religious harmony and as well as the freedom of minorities in Israel. Thank you very much the Embassy of Israel in the UK and the Foreign Ministry of Israel.