As a Pakistani I want to visit Israel, but my passport would not let me

Having lived in Pakistan almost all my life, I have only witnessed resentment and contempt for Israel from a common man to national leaders.

DEMONSTRATORS ATTEND an anti-Israel, anti-US rally in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2019.  (photo credit: AKHTAR SOOMRO / REUTERS)
DEMONSTRATORS ATTEND an anti-Israel, anti-US rally in Karachi, Pakistan, in 2019.
(photo credit: AKHTAR SOOMRO / REUTERS)
For the majority of people in Pakistan, Israel is no friend. It is an “apartheid state” that has the blood of millions of Palestinians on its hands. A wicked enemy that is responsible for the suffering, instability and bloodshed in the Middle East and even among some of their own! At least this is how Israel is perceived in the media and hard-liners in Pakistan, who happen to be men of influence. Israeli flags are burned in demonstrations frequently, a pro-Palestinian sentiment is rife and phrases like “yahoodi sazish” (Jewish conspiracy) are common and attributed to calamities and anti-state activities. People deemed anti-Pakistan too are not spared and labeled Israeli/Jewish agents. Religious and political parties use it as a derogatory term for opponents.
Having lived in Pakistan almost all my life, I have only witnessed resentment and contempt for Israel from a common man to national leaders. While the Palestinian cause is one of the prime reasons for this massive opposition against the Jewish state, some of the hate is hypocritical, exaggerated and antisemitic – radical Muslims believe that Jews can’t be friends – that has been long fostered and exploited. And it has only increased my fascination for the country that, despite not being in close proximity to Pakistan, still comes under discussion and scrutiny every now and then. This intrigue to know more about Israel and even see it in person is fueled by my passport that prevents me from visiting it. “This passport is valid for all countries of the world except Israel,” it categorically states. More specifically, since Pakistan does not recognize the State of Israel, its citizens cannot travel there on a Pakistani passport, unless, of course, if they possess another one, which isn’t the case for many “free citizens.’’
Being a journalism student with a penchant for history and an interest in global affairs, it should come as no surprise that Israel caught my attention very early on. I had imagined it to be a place with historic attractions in abundance, a land of old traditions. Tel Aviv, its major metropolis, seemed vibrant. Being sacred and a flashpoint for unrest for years in the Middle East, just reading about Jerusalem, in particular, absolutely blew my mind! After visiting Mecca and the Vatican and experiencing their divinity and holiness, the stunning Dome of Rock, Temple Mount and Western Wall and other major sites of immense significance to Abrahamic religions feel like places to see in one’s lifetime. In my professional life, I found myself engrossed in editing articles that dealt with the Israeli-Palestine conflict – an indication that I might have developed a profound connection with the Holy Land! And then came Fauda , an Israeli series on Netflix revolving around the same long drawn conflict, shot in Israel and featuring Israeli actors, which took my fascination for this country to new heights.
Speculation made the rounds in the past two months in Pakistan about the possibility of accepting Israel, especially after the establishment of ties between the United Arab Emirates and the Jewish state and more countries, including Bahrain, Sudan and, most recently, Morocco, following the suit in what is a US-brokered “peace process.” The Pakistani Foreign Office rebuked the rumors, insisting that it “categorically rejected baseless speculation regarding possibility of recognition of the State of Israel” and stood firm to Palestinian people’s “inalienable right” to self-determination. Some reports even claimed that Saudi Arabia was pressuring Pakistan to recognize Israel. Two prominent, influential Pakistani news anchors too were seen initiating discourse in favor of recognizing Israel, with one even giving an interview to an Israeli television station, saying that “when the time comes both the countries can do it [normalize relations] directly”.
In the past, attempts were made during the Musharraf era to create some semblance of normalcy in ties with the first-ever direct Pakistan-Israel contact. In 2005, ex-foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri had a meeting with his Israeli counterpart, Silvan Shalom, in Turkey, following which Musharraf also briefly met prime minister Ariel Sharon in New York in a breakthrough moment.
None of these efforts, however, bore fruit as religious clerics and hard-liners remained influential in Pakistan and the country dealt with problems of bigger magnitude. Nothing seems to have changed even now as Pakistan remains drenched in a deeply religious understanding of political affairs and a radical mindset largely prevails in society. In Tel Aviv, on the other hand, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right government couldn’t care less as it proceeds with racist and nationalist agendas while the Palestinians’ fate hangs in the balance.
Despite hurdles, initiating people-to-people contact between the two countries could actually help tone down animosity that, at least in Pakistan, has been bred for years. Moreover, restricting citizens from traveling to a country in today’s well-connected, modern world seems counterintuitive, controlling and absolutely nonsensical – a policy that needs some reassessment and shouldn’t be considered a betrayal to the Palestinian cause. Until then, traveling to Israel and seeing its historical and modern wonders will always be an unattainable dream of mine.
The writer is a journalist from Pakistan and an Erasmus Mundus scholar pursuing a master’s degree in journalism, media and globalization at Aarhus University, Denmark.