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Surprising links between Israel and Afghanistan's Pashtuns

Uri Shapira / i24NEWS

Senior Producer, Holy Land Uncovered

clock 5 min read

Pashtun men in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 18, 2010.
AP Photo/Saurabh DasPashtun men in Kabul, Afghanistan, September 18, 2010.

Former Afghan Official: If I had a visa I would move to Israel

Since the fall of Kabul to the Taliban last week, life in the capital has become a challenge for many. Among those experiencing the difficulties of the takeover are many Pashtun, a large ethnic group consisting of more than 15 million people. 

While the Taliban themselves originated as a Pashtun tribal movement, and still today hold great power in the Pashtun’s cultural heartland in Afghanistan’s south, not all members of the ethnicity sympathize with the new rulers of the country. 

Many served in the Afghan National Army, and both of the country’s recent former presidents are Pashtun. 

Theories exist that suggest that the Pashtuns are decedents of the lost tribes of the Israelites, with some feeling connected to the Mediterranean state. 

Although most Pashtun are Sunni Muslim, some feel a strong connection to Judaism and to the theories about their Israelite origins.

Israeli anthropologist Prof Avigdor Shachan suggested that the lost tribes of Israel settled in Afghanistan following the Assyrian conquest of Israel in 856-732 BCE. He even suggested that we can find clues of Hebrew culture in the names of Afghan cities such as Kandahar, which he claims is similar to the Hebrew expression "The Mountain." Other theories note the similarities between Pashtun and Jewish names. 

One Pashtun from Afghanistan who feels a strong connection to Israel is H. a former Afghan official who asked to remain anonymous. 

"I'm a prime target for the Taliban," he explained. "If they'll know I'm in Kabul, they'll behead me."  

H. worked with former Afghan president Ashraf Ghani, but ever since the premier fled the country, the two are not in communication.

"The Taliban killed and wounded dozens of people… they took down our national flag." 

In 2019, H. made contact with Israeli right-wing activist Prof Hillel Weiss, who tried to promote a UN-like body, based on the Torah Laws, named "70 Nations." Weiss even met H. in Delhi, India, and exchanged thoughts about future cooperation.

"I wrote to officials such as Israel's Defense Minister Benny Gantz and also to journalists about the situation. We need to help them. This is their land, and they will return to their original place," said Weiss. "They don’t even have to convert to Judaism. But they have to accept the seven laws of Noah," he said, referring to the traditional laws which allow non-Jews to live righteously even without converting. In our previous interview, Weiss said that after his encounter with H. he received a call from an Afghan official who was interested in further business and culture cooperation with Israel. 

H. doesn’t dismiss the option of immigrating to Israel "If I had a visa, I would have moved to Israel" he maintained. "But not as an asylum seeker." He also said he would not convert to Judaism, although he does feel a strong connection to Israel and to the Jewish people.

"We both have the same blood. We are Bnei Israel," he said, using a Hebrew term meaning "Sons of Israel" or "Israelites."

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Another Pashtun-Afghan who asked to remain anonymous is S. who now lives in Peshawar, Pakistan. Originally from Afghanistan, S. has lived in different cities around the world and worked in the shipping industry. We can see Jewish symbols on his Facebook page. 

"Israel is my country" he said. "I am persecuted here because of my Jewish faith. I would like to make contact with the Israeli authorities and start an immigration process," he said. 

Recently the issue came landed in the headlines when Israeli lawmaker Gabi Lasky from the left-wing Meretz party said that Afghan migrants should be let into Israel. 

However, she didn’t specifically refer to the Pashtuns. Lasky told us in response that she didn’t know about the theories which tie the Pashtuns to the lost tribes. "I referred to only a few hundred asylum seekers," she said. "The Jewish people have suffered from persecutions and being refugees more than anyone else. So we can't be blind to the suffering of the other." 

Nevertheless, at the moment it seems unlikely that these requests will be answered, considering strict Israeli immigration laws.

The future is unclear for the Pashtun people, especially for those who supported the previous regime.

"There is no way I'm staying in Afghanistan," said H. He also mentioned that he is considering moving to Australia or Canada. But this crisis may also be a turning point in the relationship between Israel and Afghanistan, two countries that do not share borders but may have more in common than many think.