For more than five days, Zebulon Simantov and over two dozen women and children rode a bus, crossing war-torn Afghanistan and Taliban checkpoints as the country’s last Jew left his homeland.
Footage obtained by Israel’s Kan public broadcaster shows glimpses of the perilous journey taken by Simantov and his rescuers before they finally, safely reached a neighboring country this weekend.
The footage shows Simantov and the children on the bus, traversing the barren landscape. In the background, rescuers can be heard warning them that they are going through a particularly dangerous area.
Finally, the footage shows him surrounded by children, with faces blurred to protect them and the families left behind, after arriving across the border, from where they will likely be taken to the US.
Simantov, 62, had long refused to leave Afghanistan despite threats.
But with the United States’ complete withdrawal from Afghanistan at the end of August leaving the country in the hands of the extremist group, pressure mounted on him to leave.
למי שפספס, הכתבה שלי ושל @Yoav__Zehavi מ-#חדשותהערב של @kann_news עם התיעודים הבלעדיים מעזיבתו של זבולון סימן טוב היהודי האחרון באפגניסטאן, כולל תיעוד שלו היום אחרי שחצה את הגבול עם עוד עשרות אפגנים למדינה שכנה בדרכו כך נראה לארה"ב @motikahana pic.twitter.com/2wTMlX0WyC
— roi kais • روعي كايس • רועי קייס (@kaisos1987) September 7, 2021
After initially refusing, he finally agreed.
“What changed his mind finally is that his neighbors said to him go, and take our children with you because they are also in danger,” said Israeli-American businessman Moti Kahana who runs a private security company that extracted Simantov.
“His problem isn’t the Taliban, but Islamic State, al-Qaeda. In his case it’s the other crazies that emerge each day now,” Kahana told Kan. “He fears them,” he added.
The operation was funded by Moshe Margaretten, a US ultra-Orthodox fixer whose passion is bringing Jews out of danger.
“Moshe Margaretten please take me to New York with God’s help,” Simantov says in the video, reading from a card in English.
Kahana, who helped extract people from war-torn Syria, attempted to get Simantov out amid the US withdrawal on behalf of Margaretten. But Simantov initially refused to leave, reportedly because of his long-standing refusal to grant his Israeli wife a “get,” or decree of divorce. Simantov feared facing Israel’s legal system, which penalizes such a refusal.
Kahana said that he has been urging Simantov to give his wife a divorce and that he believes that in the end, he will want to move to Israel.
While the Taliban’s spokesperson did say Simantov would be safe in the country during an interview last month, the main fears for Afghanistan’s last Jew arose following an Islamic State suicide bombing amid the US withdrawal, Kan reported.
Simantov was a well-known local personality in Afghanistan. Journalists came to him regularly and some taxi drivers already knew where he lived in Kabul, where many of the streets have no names.
Kahana’s rescue operation of Simantov also brought out some 30 Afghan women and children, he said.
After Simantov refused to leave last month, several would-be rescuers organized the evacuation of women who were at risk, among them members of the country’s national women’s soccer team, along with judges and prosecutors.