ISLAMABAD: Call it a diplomatic thaw or a baby step towards that side, Pakistan has not only permitted its Jewish citizen to travel to Israel but also encouraged him to publicise this permission, less than three months after the reported arrival of Israeli plane in Islamabad.
Fishel Khalid, 31, will be the first Pakistani in public knowledge as he had been permitted to travel to Israel. He lives in Karachi and has been very open about his religious beliefs. Son of a Muslim father and Jewish mother, Fishel chose to become a Jew and got it registered with Nadra. His four brothers opted Islam. There are around 700-800 Jews in Pakistan. Fishel applied for permission through an app of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Oct 28, three days after an Israeli journalist tweeted about a plane flown from Tel Aviv landed in Islamabad which the government had vehemently denied.
On January 2 this year, Fishel received a call from Foreign Ministry informing him the grant of permission that he tweeted only Wednesday. “Dear ImranKhanPTI on Jan 2 Ministry of Foreign Affairs called to informing that I can visit Jerusalem, Israel on Pakistani passport. I’m applying visa from Israeli embassy. Thank u Dr Faisal,” his tweet reads. Official twitter handles of MoFA, its spokesperson Dr Faisal, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry, DG ISPR Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor and Bilawal Bhutto have been tagged in this tweet.
When Dr Faisal was contacted for comments, he feigned ignorance and asked this correspondent to share the purported tweet. He promised to return after checking but he neither returned the call nor attended when rang again to press for the comment.
However, The News has learnt on good authority that Fishel was encouraged by the office of Dr Faisal to tweet the permission granted by the government and that important government functionaries be tagged in this tweet. Fishel didn’t offer any comment when contacted to inquire about this. “I don’t want to ruin my efforts by indulging in any such controversy,” he said.
A source in the MoFA privy to this development said Fishel applied for the permission on Oct 28 through the ministry’s app; his request was forwarded to Sindh chief secretary for background check as the applicant is Karachi based. It was then forwarded to the PM Office and the permission was granted after approval from there.
How will he travel on Pakistan passport? It is specifically mentioned that the holder of this document can use for travel everywhere in the world except Israel. Fishel said he could apply for Palestinian visa for visit on their side of the territory. From there, he can enter Israel. Alternatively, he can directly apply for Israeli visa as there is no bar from that side; only hurdle was Pakistani government which has already granted permission, though not in writing. Fishel says he has contacts in Israel willing to help him by all means.
Although Fishel has been quite open on social media and had been interviewed by foreign media, he wrote the first article for an English daily in Pakistan last year. In the piece published in July 2018 titled “I’m a Jewish and a Pakistani…let me go to Israel” he made a passionate appeal that he be granted freedom to religion through allowing him visit holy places in Israel.
“I am stuck in a real life conundrum. Being a practicing Jewish man, I want the freedom to perform my religious duties, a right granted to me and other minorities in the country by the constitution,” he wrote. However, Fishel continued, the reality is that my Pakistani passport states that ‘this passport is valid for all countries of the world, except Israel’.
“As per the constitution, every citizen has the right to practice their religion, including religious pilgrimages. How then, can the state be justified in prohibiting not only Jews, but Pakistani Christians, Messianic Jews, and even Muslims from travelling to Jerusalem? This self-conflicting sentence on our passports is flawed and inconsistent with our constitution, and it is time to challenge this archaic law,” he noted.
Now, his wish has finally been granted. Whether it signals a step towards setting up relations with Israel or has been granted purely to acknowledge the right of a Jewish citizen remains to be seen.