(Video: Shmuel Edelman)
Some 40 Iranian exiles and self-proclaimed lovers of Israel toured the West Bank on Sunday as part of the Samaria Regional Council’s public relations efforts to plug Judea and Samaria settlements.
“I used to be a guy who burned Israeli flags – live forever Israel!” proclaimed Afshin Javid, the leader of exiles visiting from Canada, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post.
He said he did not know a single Jew before fleeing Iran. “I must say that most of the population in Iran loves Israel.”
“For thousands of years, the Persian people stood by Israel,” but during the reign of the current regime, a small group of people took control of the government and decided to act against Israel, he said.
Javid, like most of the others in the group, are Muslim converts to Christianity.
Javid said he had been a member of the hardline paramilitary Basij voluntary militia for three years and that at 14 he had planned to be one of the children who blew up minefields, but wound up disqualified from that task for being under 15.
During the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988) the regime sanctioned self-martyrdom attacks and Iran’s leader, Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, sent members of his Basij militia, as young as 12, in human waves toward Saddam Hussein’s forces. They would blow up minefields to open the way for Iranian tanks to pass through. The children wore plastic keys around their necks, which Khomeini issued them to symbolize their entry to paradise.
Javid said he wound up as “a member of the hanging [execution] squad,” in Iran.
He converted to Christianity in Malaysia where, ironically, the Iranian regime had sent him to spread Shi’ite Islam.
Javid would enter mosques in Malaysia and later Bangladesh to speak out against the ideas of Islam.
“They wanted to kill me,” he said.
The Iranians were interrogated for about five hours upon landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. Israeli security officials “knew everything about me, my family,” said Javid, who is on his fourth visit to the country.
On Wednesday, he said he will present a $20,000 check to promote aliya at an event in Jerusalem, which he sees as a step to rebuild the Holy Temple.
At a meeting between the Iranians and Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, in Barkan, Dagan told the Iranians he greatly appreciated their visit and said he saw the Barkan industrial zone as a symbol of coexistence between Jews and Arabs as they work together. The Samaria Regional Council promotes Israel’s image and that of Judea and Samaria.
“We feel we are on the front lines between descent people and those who are evil. [A terrorist attack] could be here, in Europe or in the US,” Dagan said.
“Those who want to attack Israel attack this place,” he added.
Another Iranian exile, who called himself Matthew, said he grew up in a very religious family in Iran.
He said he abandoned Islam during his second year of university after discovering what he described as “problems in the Koran.”
Matthew wrote a fictional book that criticized Islam and the publisher sent it to the authorities, landing him in the “religious section” of the notorious Evin prison in Tehran.
“I spent five months in solitary confinement and was tortured,” Matthew said.
“The security forces accused me of being a Zionist. At the time, I didn’t even understand what that meant,” he said.
A copy of his book was sent to three religious Ayatollahs to decide his fate according to Sharia law, he said. Luckily, however, before they issued a verdict Matthew escaped from Iran with the help of a doctor friend who had treated him in prison.
The doctor referred him to a kidney specialist who, during the ultrasound examination, replaced the results with one he pulled from his bag, showing he had kidney stones, a condition that permitted him to get out of jail on bail.
Matthew’s brother, who was a police officer, mortgaged his house to raise bail money and helped him flee the country over a border checkpoint to Turkey in 2004. He ended up in Canada as a refugee. His brother lost his house.