Pakistanis arrested for travelling to Israel have relatives there

ISLAMABAD: Five Pakistanis currently under investigation for travelling to Israel on Pakistani passports still have five members of their family in Israel; they have also told investigators that for personal security reasons, they concealed their religious identity during the course of their stay in Israel.

The Federal Investigation Authority arrested five residents of Mirpurkhas — Muhammad Anwar, Muhammad Kamran Siddiqui, Kamil Anwar, Muhammad Zeeshan and Noman Siddiqui – after the State Bank of Pakistan spotted foreign remittances from an unusual destination: Israel — the only country where one can’t travel on a Pakistani passport.

The remittances were wire transferred through Western Union in small amounts and received at its Mirpurkhas branch located in the General Post Office. A total amount of around Rs2 million was remitted to Pakistan in a span of six years by some of the arrested individuals who were working in Israel as car washers or helpers.

An FIA official said that as many as eight of this family’s members had traveled to Israel at different times over the years. Some of them returned in 2021, others in 2022. Three of the individuals are senior citizens and said to be in poor health; they have not been named in the FIR as yet.

During the course of the investigation, one of the persons arrested disclosed having an aunt residing in Israel too. Rifqa — originally from Pakistan — is believed to have migrated to Israel some 40 years ago. Her father had married a Jewish woman of Iranian origin after she embraced Islam. Rifqa has two brothers — Muhammad Anwar, Muhammad Aslam — and one sister, Sitara.

All these individuals are Pakistanis, have traveled to Israel and, according to an FIA official, are over the age of 65. Sitara’s husband, Abdul Majeed Siddiqui, and two sons Noman Siddiqui and Kamran Siddiqui had also visited Israel. The remittances were sent from Israel by Noman and Kamran. Anwar’s son, Kamil, who is among the accused, also went to Israel.

The travel arrangements for the family were done by Ishaq Matat who is said to be Rifqa’s husband. Anwar, in a statement to the FIA, said he paid Rs300,000 to Ishaq for logistic and travel help and to find work in Tel Aviv. Israeli newspaper Haaretz identified one Issac Matat, a CEO of a carpet firm founded by Jews migrated from Pakistan there but found no evidence linking him with the arrested persons. It is unclear whether the Ishaq family had also moved from Pakistan or somewhere else.

Spending this much time in Israel, the arrested individuals had kept their religious identity concealed while there. Back home, it has been revealed that one of them is a Hafiz-e-Quran and they are followers of the Barelvi sect. One of them runs a general store, another owns a beauty parlor, according to an FIA official. While they traveled to Israel, people in their area were told that they were in Switzerland.

The operation to locate these individuals started last month after the Financial Monitoring Unit of the SBP noted remittances coming from Israel. Although the remitted amount was not big (Rs2 million), it nonetheless raised some curiosity about the recipients and the nature of their business in Israel. The FIA has registered an FIR on account of the illegal stay of these people in Israel since their Pakistani passports are not valid for travel to Israel.

Pakistan has a negligible number of Jews, most of whom are in Sindh. An FIA official says that some are also believed to be residing in Mirpurkhas and Umarkot. In the general election of 2013, around 809 adult Jews were reported to have been enrolled as voters; this number rose to 900 in 2017. The majority of them opt to hide their religious identity for security reasons. The Jewish community in Pakistan had last garnered attention in 2019 when the only openly declared Pakistani Jew, Fishel Khalid, was allowed by the government to travel to Israel.

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