The Israelite Connections of the Taliban

07 September 2011

two Pashtun elders stand in front of mosque
Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic Creative Commons - Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic

Pashtun elders in Khost, Afghanistan

A decade after 9/11, one extraordinary aspect of the attacks is the connection with Israel. While bin Laden blamed US’ support for Israel as one of the causes of al-Qaeda’s terrorism, the majority of the Taliban, who make up the backbone of the terrorist movement, actually claim Israelite origin.

By Shalva Weil for ISN Insights

It is difficult to believe that a decade has passed since the 9/11 attacks in which nearly 3,000 innocent people died in four coordinated suicide attacks perpetrated by al-Qaeda. The United States reacted by invading Afghanistan and declaring war against the Taliban, an extremist Islamic terrorist movement, which had harbored al-Qaeda.

A decade after the suicide bombings, one of the more extraordinary aspects of the attacks is the connection with Israel. In 2004, al-Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden blamed the US’ support of Israel as one of the causes for the movement’s terrorism. However, the fact that the majority of the Taliban, who make up the backbone of al-Qaeda, themselves claim Israelite origin is relatively unknown.

The Taliban operate in Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan. They are fundamentalist Sunni Muslims, who wish to impose their brand of Islam and their interpretation of Sharia law on others. They despise western democracy and secularism, are notorious for their treatment of women and ferociously oppose the US and Israel.

The Taliban are largely made up of members of the Pashtun or Pathan tribes, who constitute the largest single tribal grouping in the world, numbering over 15 million. They are divided into distinct local tribes reminiscent of the names of the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel. According to the Bible, the Ten Lost Tribes were taken captive by the Assyrians in the eighth century BCE, while the inhabitants of the kingdom of Judah remained in Israel. The Ten Tribes were exiled to “Halah, Habor, the cities of Medes and the River Gozan”, in the very geographical and cultural area in which the Pashtuns live. The fate of the Lost Israelites has always been something of an enigma, and discussed throughout the ages in the Talmud and other Jewish texts, but Jews and Christians alike have generally believed that at the “end of days”, they would eventually be reunited with the descendants of the tribe of Judah.

The first president of Israel, Itzchak Ben-Zvi, in his book, The Exiled and the Redeemed, devoted a whole chapter to the purported Israelite origins of the Pashtuns. He explained that the Pashtun tribe Rabbani could be the lost Israelite tribe of Reuben; Shinwari could be Shimon; Daftani could be a corruption of Naftali; Jajani – Gad, Afridi – Ephraim, and so on. He quoted local Jews from Afghanistan who had reported to him in the early 1950s that these fierce tribesmen wore an embroidered Hanukka (Jewish Festival of Lights) lamp on their backs. He had heard that they wrapped themselves in a tallith (prayer shawl), and lit candles on Friday night. They also wore, and to this day, insist on keeping their pe’ot (sidecurls). Abraham Benjamin, a Jew from Herat in Afghanistan, reported that “According to the tradition current among the Afridis (one of the Pashtun sub-tribes), they are descendants of the Israelites, more particularly, the sons of Ephraim.”

In a recent email from a member of the Pashtun tribes, the enquirer (anonymous for obvious reasons) wrote: “I have always been curious about my ancestry…I was told very early on in my life that we are like the Jews and that our customs and rituals are the same…I would be amazed to find out whether there is a gene link in my ancestry to Israel”.

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