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Rare Trade Occurs Between Pakistan, Israel

FILE - People shop for produce at a market in Jerusalem, Sept. 30, 2022. One such market recently offered the first shipment from Pakistan of food products offloaded in Israel.
FILE - People shop for produce at a market in Jerusalem, Sept. 30, 2022. One such market recently offered the first shipment from Pakistan of food products offloaded in Israel.

An association of American Jews on Thursday hailed what it said was the first shipment from Pakistan of food products offloaded in Israel.

The transaction this week involved Pakistani-Jewish businessman Fishel BenKhald and three Israeli businesspeople, the American Jewish Congress said in a statement from its New York headquarters.

"Trade exhibits hosted by the UAE helped Pakistani and Israeli businessmen conclude a deal that enabled this week's Pakistani shipment to Israel," the American Jewish Congress noted. "We welcome this small step that can have wider implications for Israeli and Pakistani economies and for the region at large."

BenKhald lives in Karachi, the largest city in the Muslim-majority nation, where he runs a Jewish kosher certification business for food manufacturers exporting products to destinations worldwide. He disclosed the rare bilateral trade via Twitter on Tuesday.

The businessman posted a video clip of his items, including dates, dry fruit and spices, on display in a Jerusalem market. The clip has since garnered more than 640,000 views.

"I was not expecting it to be taken that big of a deal," BenKhald said in written comments to VOA, adding that this was not the first export of Pakistani products to Israel.

"The Israeli government and buyers have no problem accepting the direct shipment from Pakistan,” he said, adding that Israel does not have a problem sending payments to Pakistani banks.

BenKhald's initiative was mainly praised by his Pakistani Twitter followers, including journalists, politicians and businesspeople, some of whom asked for his advice on how to sell their products to Israel. He attempted to reply to every message.

"Congrats brother, you are doing excellent service that diplomats and politicians couldn't do," wrote Syed Wiqas Shah, a prime-time television news show host.

"Time for both the countries to initiate dialogue and for this citizens-to-citizens contact could play a vital role in bringing both the countries close to each other," wrote Zameer Ahmed Malik.

Pakistani officials did not immediately comment on the rare trade.

Islamabad does not have diplomatic ties with Israel and refuses to recognize it as a sovereign state until the state of Palestine is established — a long-running policy of many Muslim-majority countries.

But the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain forged relations with Israel in 2020 under the U.S.-brokered Abraham Accords. Sudan and Morocco followed suit.

Pakistan is an acknowledged nuclear power and Israel is widely understood to have nuclear weapons. The two countries have held secret meetings on security-related issues since their foreign ministers met publicly in 2005. Pakistani Islamic groups and right-wing parties vehemently oppose forging bilateral ties with Israel over the Palestinian issue.

Pakistani citizens are barred from visiting Israel because the country's passport clearly says it is valid for all countries of the world except Israel.

BenKhald was among a group of Pakistanis who undertook a rare trip to Israel last year and visited the Jewish prayer site in Jerusalem known as the Western Wall. The 15-member group of primarily Pakistani Americans, who traveled on their U.S. passports, was organized by the American Muslim and Multifaith Women’s Empowerment Council, an activist group, in collaboration with Sharaka, an Israeli organization promoting ties with Muslim countries.

The visit drew a rebuke from Pakistani opposition politicians warning the government against ending Islamabad's official boycott of Israel. The reaction intensified after Israeli President Isaac Herzog told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, about his private meeting with the delegation at his Jerusalem residence in early May 2022.

"I must say, this was an amazing experience because we haven't had a group of Pakistani leaders in Israel ever in such scope, and that all stemmed from the Abraham Accords," Herzog said.