by Dana Soffi
The prophet Zachariah foretells that all the nations of the world will come to Jerusalem on Sukkot in the days of the Redemption. Thus, the holiday reaches out to the nations of the world.
Interviewing Naqibullah Isacza, who fled the Taliban for the USA and tells Arutz Sheva of education for terrorism, persecution, love for Israel and dreams of visiting the graves of 'our common ancestors' in the Jewish state.
Tell us about yourself:
Let’s start from the beginning.
My family is called Khan, Khans are the leaders of Pashtuns. In northern Afghanistan we were the Khans: people with authority, honorable people. In 1984, under the direct supervision and leadership of my grandfather, our family, together with 3000 other Pashtun families, fled to Pakistan hoping to escape from war and communist regime bombings.
I was born in Pakistan in a beautiful mountainous area. Parents named me Naqibullah and I adopted my family name Isaczai, which means ‘sons of Isac’. We settled in a refugee camp. The conditions were terrible: we lacked water, electricity, gas… everything! I attended school there for 7 years, until we returned to our homeland of northern Afghanistan. It still wasn’t at peace. I finished school and enrolled at Balkh University in Mazar-i-Sharif, I studied Mining and Natural Resources Engineering.
After graduating, I worked for a nonprofit organization that educated women about their basic rights according to Islam and the Afghan constitution. USAID issued grants for these projects. While working there, I got targeted by the bad guys called ‘Taliban’. That was when I made the decision to move to the United States. Here I enrolled at the University of the People and am currently studying for my MBA in Business Management. I am still single..
Do you work?
I work for the state of Arizona. I am a case manager for the federal program that helps low-income families. We provide them assistance with health insurance, nutrition and cash.
Afghanistan and Pakistan: can you please explain the connection between the government of Pakistan and the Taliban?
The Taliban is a very famous movement. Afghanistan and Pakistan share a 2430 km border, it is called ‘the Durand line’. No Afghan [Pashtuns are the original Afghans] accepts it, they say the border has no geographical nor historical base.
Pashtuns, or Bani Israel, live on both sides of the Durand. There are two main cities on the Pakistani side: Quetta and Peshawar. I used to live in Quetta, I know every street there. There are two small towns in Quetta, one is called ‘Isaczai town’, the other is called ‘Alizai town’ [Alizai is the name of another Pashtun tribe]. Both Isaczais and Alizais control the Taliban.
You are saying that Pashtuns, aka ‘Bani Israel’, are in control of the Taliban...
Yes, most of the Taliban members are Pashtuns. Leaders of both Alizais and Isaczais live in Pakistan, so their territory is controlled by the government. Talibs walk freely inside those cities, they are the leaders there. The Pakistani establishment ‘encourages’ them to continue their jihad [Muslim war against the infidels]: their families are blackmailed and threatened. People are sent to Afghanistan and forced to fight. They get killed if they refuse.
Why is Pakistan doing that? Back in 2001, when the Taliban government collapsed, we had no suicide attacks, no war. For three years Afghanistan was at peace. In 2004 the US government gave more than $1 billion to Pakistan to combat terrorism. You see, if there is no war and no suicide attacks, Pakistan isn’t going to be receiving any money! So they started a ‘business’ of producing terrorists to keep the money flowing. They brainwash and blackmail people to make them fight in Afghanistan.
There are more than 20 000 madrassas [Islamic religious schools] in Pakistan. If you take a look at rural areas, you will see people living in poverty: they lack food, drinking water, electricity, landline, etc. Most people are shepherds there. From a very young age and until the day they die all they do is take their sheep to the field and back.
Teachers in madrassas persuade children that their lives will always be boring and miserable. They say: ‘Why don’t you change that? If you want change you need to go to junnah [heaven].’ Then they explain that heaven is a garden with 72 virgins waiting for them. They present heaven as precious and life as worthless.
So living a boring life appears worse than dying and killing innocent people?
Exactly. They brainwash kids for years turning them into suicide bombers. That’s one of the ways they do it. The other way is by simply threatening families. They order people to perform an attack in exchange for their families’ safety. That’s a brief description of Pakistan’s policies against Afghanistan.
Who does the Taliban target?
In general, Talibs have two targets: the worst and the best people of our society. By targeting bad people, like, for example, corrupted officials, they gain support of the local population. On the other hand, they are also targeting people who serve our community: doctors, teachers and engineers because they do not want Afghanistan to become a developed country. Developed Afghanistan will make it hard for them to brainwash people. Most of those serving in the Afghan military are teachers and engineers, the Taliban targets them.
You were threatened by the Taliban and had to flee…
Yes, and my family also. The Taliban is not that powerful in northern Afghanistan, but we own a piece of land in Sar-e-Pol province. My family doesn’t live there anymore, they moved to the city. It is dangerous for educated people to live in rural areas, because they might get kidnapped, or killed. One year ago my cousin’s cousin who worked for the police was brutally murdered by the Taliban. They literally cut him into pieces.
I am so sorry… Is it possible for your family to leave and join you in the US?
The US has a strict visa policy. I am allowed to bring my wife and children with me. I can also bring my parents and siblings under the age of 21. My father won’t come, but my mother… I am working on it.
Why won’t your father come?
He can’t live in the United States. He is a grown man with a stable social life, he will simply have no one to communicate with. This is why he prefers living with his cousins and other relatives.
Did your work for the USAID projects help you get a visa? Was the process somehow easier for you?
It was easier because the United States has a special program for those Afghan citizens who work with the American government. Other people wait for years to get a Green Card, for us it is a matter of several months. I came here in 2016. Right now I am a permanent resident, I will be granted citizenship in 2019.
Can we hope to host you in Israel in 2019?
I need to take a vacation from work, and then I will certainly visit you! You know, the Muslim media does a great job of brainwashing everyone against the Jews and against Israel. Israel is pictured as the biggest enemy of Muslims.
I sometimes joke that if there was no Israel, people would still be living in caves like 10000 years ago. Most inventions are created by Israel! People with such high level of education cannot hate, they cannot discriminate against anyone. Sometimes at work we have security training conducted by police officers. We had one last month, and the man conducting it said that many police and security officers visit Israel to get their training. He said: ‘If you compare US security to Israeli security, you will see that US security is a joke.’
That’s how I imagine Israel, as one of the strongest, most developed nations of the planet. We owe Israel a lot.
Any particular places you would like to visit?
The graves of Avraham, Yitzhak and Yaakov, and the grave of mother Rachel. I would love to visit Tel Aviv, as it is a very famous city... I also want to visit places where people strictly keep Jewish traditions, so I can learn more about my own traditions.
What does being Bani Israel mean personally to you?
Back in that village in Pakistan nobody knew who Israel and Yaakov were. Despite that, many of them were called Israel, Yaakov and Benyamin. On Eid [Muslim religious holiday] Muslims slaughter a sheep or a goat to honor Ibrahim’s [Avraham] sacrifice. I remember that after slaughtering an animal, the villagers would put its blood on walls…
Were they all Pashtuns?
Yes, all of them were Pashtuns. They would put the blood near the door, the main entrance. Neither of us had an idea why we were doing that. The only thing that’s clear is that our grandfathers, and our grandfathers’ grandfathers, also did that. When I joined our Facebook group [The People of Israel’s Jirga – Pashtuns and Jews] I found that it was an Israelite custom. The first persons who did that were Israelites. This means that there is some sort of connection between Israel and Pashtuns.
Have you ever seen other Muslims do that?
Only Pashtuns, no one else does it. You know, many Muslims say that Jews are our enemies, but I don’t believe that. That is Arab propaganda. Why would we fight Israel for the sake of Arabs? Many Pashtuns will say that Israel is the enemy. My grandfather, too, but when asked if he was Israel, he always said: ‘Yes.’ Every uneducated Pashtun knows that. Educated Pashtuns are influenced by Iranian, Arab and other books. If you ask villagers: ‘Are you Israel?’ they will answer: ‘No, but my father and grandfather were.’
Ah, they are not because Israel is the ‘enemy’…
Yes, because they are constantly being told that Israel does awful things to Palestinians. The truth is, no one knows what Palestine even is! No one from rural areas knows where Palestine is located! It is all the result of the Arab media, people believe it. As I said earlier, if you go to villages of Quetta, or Kandahar, for example, the locals will tell you ‘Yes, we are the descendants of Yaakov, we are the descendants of Yitzhak’.
Are you proud of that?
Sometimes when I talk to other Afghans who are not Pashtuns, I tell them: ‘You’ve got to respect me because I am the son of prophets!’ I like that! We also believe that the Quran says that Israel is God’s chosen nation. That makes me proud.
Being an acting Muslim, how did you become interested in your Bani Israel ancestry?
5 years ago I found a website which linked Pashtuns to Israel. I wanted to learn more about the topic, so I started searching for a group, or a person to talk to. I was searching on Facebook and your group popped up. When I joined, I got many of my questions answered, I found people who were very nice to me. I felt as if I have found my family.
You feel the connection!
Yes, I feel like I am communicating with someone of my own. This is why I am so interested in the group. We don’t have Israeli embassy in Afghanistan, Afghanistan doesn’t have any diplomatic representation in Israel. Why? We never had any conflicts with Israel, we never had any wars, why don’t we have diplomatic relations?
If Arabs stand against Israel, why would we be the enemies of Israel for the sake of Arabs? Arabs are not our friends at all! We are a free, independent nation, we are the ones to decide our foreign policies, and we shouldn’t follow Iran and Arabs! I hope that together we can inspire our governments to establish friendly relations.
Yes! I saw a picture of taweez [amulets worn around the neck] with Stars of David engraved on them. I saw the same lockets in my mom’s jewelry box, she had many of them!
What about dietary laws? Do you mix meat with dairy?
No, and we also don’t mix fish and milk products. We usually wait for an hour or two between eating meat and dairy. Remember, you said that you wouldn’t eat an egg if it had a drop of blood inside? We, too, wouldn’t eat that, we would throw away the whole egg. We don’t eat any blood at all.
We heard that some Pashtuns slaughter an animal next to a hole in the ground so the blood flows there, then they cover the blood with mud, or sand. Have you ever seen this?
Yes, we do that. This is rare in cities, because most cities are multicultural - many things are adopted from other cultures, so people might not do that. In villages, however, when Pashtuns slaughter an animal they let the blood flow and then cover it with mud. In rural areas you will still see everyone putting blood on walls, and doing other things that are not part of Islam.
There are certain animals and sea creatures that the Jews are forbidden to eat. Are there any that Pashtuns wouldn’t eat?
No pork, of course. Some Pashtuns do eat camels or horses due to financial issues, but they are looked down upon, in Pashtun community this is considered a bad thing to do. I cannot eat camel, or horse. Pashtuns don’t eat shrimps. Some people adopted other cultures, they are no longer traditional, but if you take shrimps to village, locals will never touch those. They only eat chicken, sheep and goat.
Anything else you wish to tell readers?
I remember we wanted to play soccer, so I started counting people. One of the guys said: ‘No, don’t count us!’ If you go to a village and start counting people, you’ll find yourself in trouble. If, for example, there are 10 people sitting in a room and someone wants to bring food and asks how many people there are, they will either say a random number, or estimate, but they won’t be counting.
We heard that mixed marriages are not that common among Pashtuns.
We are very strict about that. My tribe, Isaczai, will never let a Pashtun marry a non-Pashtun. In general, it is very rare for Pashtuns to marry people from other nations, 1 in 10 000, maybe. There is only one person in my entire family that is married to a non-Pashtun.
How does the community treat a person who consists in a mixed marriage?
In villages they will not consider him a Pashtun anymore. He loses honor and respect, and his children are treated like non-Pashtuns. This is why people like these lose their language, because the community does not maintain good relationships with them. They may still live there, but they are definitely excluded from community. In FATA [Federally Administered Tribal Areas, Pakistan], for example, people are very strict, they would never do that. Many conflicts happen because of this. My father had a relative, a non-Pashtun wanted to marry her. He belonged to a powerful family. Still, my clan said: ‘No, you cannot get married.’ Both sides lost 10 people in that conflict.
In conclusion, is there anything else you would like to say?
I know that many Jews and Israelis think that we consider them our enemies, but that is not true. We want to build strong and honest ties with Israel. I want to assure you that Pashtuns, the people of Afghanistan, are not Arabs who consider Israel an enemy, we see you as our own blood. We want the new generation to know that Pashtuns and Israel are one nation that is not supposed to stay divided forever. We want to unite.
Dana Soffi was born in Riga, Latvia, made aliyah in November 2011 and married in Israel. She has a Bachelor's in Social Science and she and her husband are interested in researching the Lost 10 Tribes.
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