'It’s remarkable what Israel has achieved'

As homeland faces floods, visiting Pakistani-Americans see promise in Israeli tech

Delegation of religious figures, journalists to meet with president and tour holy sites as they explore possibilities of expanded ties

Lazar Berman is The Times of Israel's diplomatic reporter

Pakistani-American leaders examine desert agrotech at the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council, September 19, 2022 (Sharaka)
Pakistani-American leaders examine desert agrotech at the Shaar HaNegev Regional Council, September 19, 2022 (Sharaka)

A delegation of 12 Pakistani-American leaders arrived in Israel Sunday for a six-day visit designed to foster deeper ties between two countries that do not have diplomatic relations.

The trip’s goal, according to the organizers, is “to allow the participants to see and explore Israel for themselves, and to transmit what they learn and experience to audiences in Pakistan to help provide information for the important debate underway on whether Pakistan should join the Abraham Accords.”

In the wake of deadly floods in Pakistan, the delegation will place a particular emphasis on blue-and-white technologies around water and food security, and mitigating environmental disasters.

Nasim Ashraf, a physician and former Pakistani human development minister, told The Times of Israel Monday that agricultural technologies he examined in the Gaza border region would be applicable in Pakistan.

“We spent the whole day looking at the advances in water reuse technology and agriculture,” said Ashraf. “It’s remarkable what Israel has achieved in these fields. They are turning deserts into farmland at very low cost.”

The group visited three kibbutzim on the Gaza border — Alumim, Erez, and Nir Am — to discuss desert agrotech.

A delegation of Pakistani-American leaders hears a briefing on the Gaza Strip at the Black Arrow monument, September 19, 2022 (Sharaka)

The group will also meet with President Isaac Herzog, business leaders, and political experts.

They discussed the security situation on the Gaza border on Monday, and were visiting Muslim, Christian, and Jewish holy sites — including the Al Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount — in Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday.

“The floodgates are wide open; the initial shock has turned into a realization that Muslims and Jews are both the children of Prophet Ibrahim, peace be upon him,” said Anila Ali, head of the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council. “Therefore, we must continue our work to build peace on a people-to-people connection to promote the Abraham Accords in Muslim countries. If we are to build a better future for our children, we must let go of the grievances of the past.”

This aerial view shows a flooded residential area in Dera Allah Yar town after heavy monsoon rains in Jaffarabad, Pakistan, on August 30, 2022. (Fida HUSSAIN / AFP)

The visit was organized by the AMMWEC and Sharaka, an organization that emerged in the wake of the 2020 peace agreements to promote peace and cooperation in the region.

The two groups brought Muslim-American leaders to Israel and the United Arab Emirates in May.

Pakistani anchorman Imtiaz Mir (courtesy)

Pakistani television news anchor Imtiaz Mir called for his country to follow the lead of the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco in establishing relations with Israel.

“I have openly suggested that Islamabad should consider normalizing ties with Tel Aviv to remain in step with shifting geopolitics in the Middle East,” he told The Times of Israel.

Israel signed groundbreaking normalization agreements in 2020 with the three Arab countries, and is working to close such a deal with Sudan as it goes through severe political unrest.

Israel and Pakistan have made overtures to each other in the past, most notably when the two countries’ foreign ministers met in Istanbul in 2005 following Israel’s withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. But there hasn’t been any major public push to establish relations, even as Israel has tightened ties in recent years with Pakistan’s rival India.

According to Pakistan’s national database, there are 745 registered Jewish citizens in the country, which has a population of at least 220 million.

Sharaka global affairs director Dan Feferman praised the participants’ willingness to risk threats to come to Israel.

“It doesn’t mean they have to agree or like everything that Israel does, but dialogue and seeing for yourself is critical,” Feferman said. “Moreover, Israeli technologies and know-how can greatly help the Pakistani people and Israel is more than willing to share these with all new friends.”

Pakistani-American Anila Ali (left) gives a book to President Isaac Herzog during a rare trip by a Pakistani national to Israel in May. (Twitter)

The May visit to Israel, which was made up of mostly Pakistani expatriates living in America, made waves in Pakistan. Journalist Ahmed Quraishi was taken off the air and fired by Pakistan Television following his visit to Jerusalem.

Pakistan’s state-run TV tweeted that it laid off Quraishi, who visited Israel in a “personal capacity.” Pakistan’s Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb also announced Quraishi’s removal for the visit to Israel.

Among those who criticized the visit was Pakistan’s ousted former prime minister Imran Khan, a former cricket star turned Islamist politician who was voted out of office in April. Khan claimed the visit to Jerusalem was meant to pave the way for Pakistan’s eventual recognition of Israel — something the delegation denied. Quraishi was fired the day after Khan gave a speech that assailed the visit to Israel.

“We have no intentions of speaking for the Pakistani government, whether to normalize relations with Israel or not,” Ali said in May. “The matter is between the Israeli government and Pakistan.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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