Dr. Sabir Michael leads the closing prayer at an international conference on Christian persecution in Budapest, Hungary, on Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo supplied)
A renowned Catholic human rights activist has called for Pakistan to make necessary diplomatic arrangements for its Christian citizens to visit holy sites in Israel.
“There has been an ongoing debate on whether Pakistan should establish ties with Israel. And we also see that nearly all Gulf nations have already normalized ties with Israel. Some have done it openly while others are discreet,” Dr. Sabir Michael, president of the Peace Welfare and Development Association (PWDA), told UCA News.
“It has been a stated policy in Pakistan that there shouldn’t be any relations with Israel. We too stand by our state. But for Pakistani Christians, Israel is home to many of their holiest sites. It is where Jesus was crucified and buried. It is where Jesus spent most of his childhood. We have an emotional and religious attachment to Israel similar to what our Muslim brethren feel for Makkah and Medina.
“We, the Christians of Pakistan, demand that we be exempted from its travel ban to Israel. We aren’t asking the government to establish formal ties at any cost. All we are asking is that Pakistan makes some sort of diplomatic arrangements for the country’s minority Christian community to visit Jordan and Israel.
“We want to go there in line with the laws of Pakistan and our loyalty remains with our country. The government must do something about this.”
Michael also urged Christian lawmakers in federal and provincial assemblies to raise this issue at official forums.
“If they can’t do it publicly, they should hold negotiations with the Foreign Office and parliamentary committees on foreign affairs. What are they sitting there for? They hardly get any funds from the government. The least they can do is to do some lobbying on behalf of Christians,” he said.
“This is our firm demand. Some don’t raise this issue out of fear of repercussions, but I am very confident and clear that this is a legitimate and constitutional demand.”
The PWDA chief also advised Christian rights activists to use social media platforms and join the cause without any fear.
The demand came amid growing media speculation that Pakistan was considering establishing diplomatic ties with Israel.
What lent credence to these claims was a sudden endorsement from media commentators, widely viewed as mouthpieces of Pakistan’s powerful military establishment.
“Pakistan must also revisit its Israel policy. Message for we Pakistanis from the Custodians of the Holy Mosques (Saudi ruler) and other brothers in the Arab world. Nations don't have permanent friends or enemies, only interests. Why is Pakistan shy of exercising its options?” Kamran Khan, a popular current affairs show host, tweeted on Nov. 23.
Another pro-military anchor, Mubasher Lucman, appeared on an Israeli news channel on Nov. 24 and backed calls for normalization of ties between the two countries.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Imran Khan was quoted by Middle East Eye as saying that Pakistan was facing mounting pressure from the US and Arab countries to normalize ties with Israel.
The UAE, Bahrain and Sudan have already signed a US-brokered normalization agreement with Israel.
According to media reports, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Saudi Arabia last weekend and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.