Exclusive — ‘Thankful to Imran Khan govt to let a Pakistani travel to Israel,’ says Anila Ali

Earlier this month, a delegation, which included Pakistanis and Pakistani Americans, travelled to Israel, to promote interfaith harmony. The visit drew sharp criticism in Pakistan, where Opposition leaders accused the government of arranging the trip in order to pave the way to recognise Israel.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office quickly rubbished such reports, explaining that the trip was arranged by a foreign NGO and not Pakistan. It further added that the country’s position on the Jewish state remains clear and unambiguous.

The delegation, which has come under fire, was led by Pakistani-American Anila Ali. Geo.tv spoke to Ali about the purpose of the trip and the subsequent reaction. The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Excerpts:

Q. Why did you decide to take a delegation to Israel?

Anila Ali: The purpose of the visit was to see the Abraham Accords in action. I’m a board member of Sharaka, and the group AMWEC [American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council]. Through AMWEC, we build interfaith ties with people of different communities in America. So, it was a natural alliance with Muslims and Jews that we became partners and decided to visit not just Israel but Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well.

Q. Why were Pakistanis included in the group?

Anila Ali: AMWEC has Muslims, Jews, Christians Greek orthodox and Sikhs on our advisory board and we build ties with the multi-faith community.

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We also empower women, and since the majority of us are Muslim women from Pakistan, we elevate the Muslim Pakistani voice. And of course, Pakistanis wanted to go. We have a lot of interest in Pakistanis going to Israel, to see what it’s like, and check it out for themselves. To see what Israelis are like because they’ve never met Israelis. Also, a major motivating [factor] is to pray at Masjid al Aqsa.

Q. How many people were a part of your delegation?

Anila Ali: We were 17 people, including the Sharaka group. “Sharaka” is an Arabic word, meaning partnership. Sharakas are Arabs and Israelis of the Abraham Accord countries, who are promoting peace between Jews and Muslims and Arabs and Israelis. We are partners with them, they are the ones who took us.

Q. What were the nationalities of those who went with you?

Anila Ali: We had British Pakistanis, American Pakistanis and two Pakistanis with us too.

Q. Did the Pakistani nationals seek approval from the government?

Anila Ali: I’m very thankful to the Imran Khan government for allowing Fishel BenKhald to travel to Jerusalem so that he could pray at his holy site.

I was given surety that he would not be stopped when coming back. And I’m also thankful to Imran Khan’s government that he allowed BenKhald, for the first time in the history of Pakistan, to write “Judaism” as his religion on his passport. So yes, I had approval for Fishel.

Ahmad Quraishi is a freelance journalist, who writes about the MENA region and is highly knowledgeable about national security, extremism, and counter-terrorism, which are the areas that our Muslim NGO has been working on since 9/11.

Q. Do you think it was the right time to visit Israel?

Anila Ali: Our trip had been planned many months in advance. It just happened it was at the same time, unfortunately, when Dr Shireen Mazari used it for her own political purposes and then Imran Khan also used our trip to incite hatred for a group of expats.

This is not the first time that a government or someone affiliated with the government has gone to Israel. A group of Pakistani American doctors recently went to Israel on a truth-seeking mission. I don’t want to name names but we have to understand that Americans are free people, they can do what they like, they can say what they like and we are in a very unique position in America to change narratives ourselves.

A journalist’s job or a Muslim’s job is to seek the truth, look at all sides and report it and build peace.

Q. How do you see the future of Pakistan-Israel ties?

Anila Ali: I can’t speak for the Pakistan government and I can’t speak for the Israeli government either, but I can speak for the Pakistani people living in America and in Pakistan.

I have been overwhelmingly inundated with messages of support from young people, mostly from those who want jobs, they want a better life, and they say it is not our conflict. We should not be hating them, we should be working with them, so our country can benefit. Turkey, Egypt, UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco are all Muslim countries, so why not Pakistan?

If Pakistan joins the Abraham Accords, I think it would be good for Pakistan as well. they can benefit from Agricultural technology and water technology [from Israel]. Also, I think it will be in a better position to help the Palestinians. So, it could be a win-win situation for Pakistan.

Q. How did the Israeli government receive the delegation?

Anila Ali: We met with the president of Israel. We were welcomed by him, warmly and graciously. I told him I’m a proud Pakistani American, was born in Pakistan, worked there at Karachi Grammar School, and then moved to Saudi Arabia, after which I came to America.

We found Israelis to be most welcoming and most generous and very kind to us. What was the biggest point of surprise for us was to see so many Muslims — Arabs, young men with beards, old men with beards, and women in hijab — working for the Israeli government.

Read more: PTV has sacked journalist for being part of delegation to Israel

There are cities that we visited like Abu Gosh, that are majority Arab. There you can hear the Adhan and the church bells ring. If they can live together in Israel with Jews then the same should happen with the Palestinians.

Q. Do you know that journalist Ahmed Quraishi has been fired from his job at the state TV after the visit?

Anila Ali: Ahmed is a journalist. He should be allowed the freedom to seek knowledge as it says in the Holy Quran.

Q. Did anyone from the Pakistani government contact you after the visit?

Anila Ali: No one from the government has contacted me.

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