Palestinian Businessmen Keen to Invest in & Trade with Pakistan -Ambassador Ahmed Rabei

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By Kinza Mumtaz Abbasi

H.E Ahmed Rabei is Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary of Palestine to Pakistan who took charge of his Islamabad office in April 2019. H.E.Ahmed Rabei presented his credentials to the President of Pakistan in a high protocol ceremony at the President House in which Guard of Honor was presented to him.He has met a number of Pakistani officials and visited different places including the Kartar Pur, attended the opening ceremony on Nov 09, 2019. H.E Ahmed Rabei met Senator Raja Zafar-ul-Haq and Senator Mushahid Hussain and  expressed his gratitude that Palestinian nation will always be indebted to Pakistan for its support for Palestinian cause. He called on Chairman Senate Mr Sadiq Sanjrani and discussed matters of bilateral at parliamentary level. Deputy Chairman Senate, Saleem Mandviwalla in a meeting assured that Parliament,Gov and people of Pakistan will continue to express their solidarity for Palestine.

Mr. Ahmed Rabei held an official meeting with Mayor of Islamabad and Chairman Capital Development Authority (CDA), Mr. Sheikh Anser Aziz. During this meeting, cooperation amid CDA and Palestinian Embassy was debated. The new Ambassador is hopeful, and he expects that Pak- Palestine relations would advance during his tenure.

H.E the Ambassador was contacted for his interview to this scribe few days ago. Mr. Ahmed Rabei very kindly spared time and shared his thoughts and views on different points. We offered heartfelt condolences for victims of Israeli attacks in Gaza and other parts of Palestine last week. We have always supported a free Palestine and we’ll always raise our voice against Israeli aggression in Palestine.

Details of the interview are as under:

Q- Thank you for your time. How are you and your family? Would you like to share with our readers how many kids you have and what they do ?

A- I have 2 daughters; the elder is advocate in Tunisia and younger is 7 years old. I have 3 sons. All of them are studying. I have an extraordinary bonding with my daughters and indeed a special one. Daughters are always special for fathers, they care more for their fathers than sons. My elder daughter despite living far from us daily writes to me and asks me about how was my day, did I take my food on time and stuff like this and my day doesn’t start without seeing my little daughter’s face.I believe that father’s unconditional love and support help children to express their thoughts and feelings that’s why I’ve always tried my best to maintain a far reaching influence on children despite my busy and monotonous routine.

Q- Pak-Palestine relations have always been exemplary. Our readers would like to learn about the history of these relations?

A- Bilateral ties started in 1930, when a meeting was held between Mufti of Palestine, Quaid i Azam and Allama Iqbal in Al Aqsa Mosque, Al Quds. Second meeting was held in 1937,when Mufti Palestine met with grandfather of Peer Naqeeb ur Rehman Eidgaah Shareef, Quaid e Azam and Allama Iqbal in a meeting of all leaders of Muslim ummah at the place of grandfather of peer Naqeeb ur Rehman Eidgaah Shareef. Mufti Palestine supported Pakistan’s independence in solidarity with all the Muslims of the subcontinent. And even after the independence of Pakistan, Mufti Palestine visited Pakistan where he met the Governor Quaid and congratulated him for independence. Then in 1964, Ayub Khan visited Al Aqsa Mosque, Al Quds with the King of Jordan. Then after the 1973 Arab- Israeli wars, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Pakistan signed an agreement according to which PLO officers got their trainings in Pakistani military institutions. Since then Pakistan had developed close tieswith PLO and Yasser Arafat. Our President Mahmoud Abbas has officially visited Pakistan many times and Palestine is always grateful to Pakistan for its support for an independent Palestine state.Embassy of Palestine was established first time in Karachi in 1817 and then it was shifted to Islamabad in 1974. In 2017, PalestinianEmbassy was formally inaugurated in Islamabad by Pakistan’s former PM Mian M. Nawaz Shareef and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Here I would like to add some information on national and international days for Palestine. On 15thNovember 1988, the legislative Council of PLO issued the Palestinian Declaration of Independence. Later on, late Yasser Arafat also announced Jerusalem as the sacred capital of Palestine when he was in Algeria and since then we celebrate Declaration of Independence Day on 15th November. And on 29th November whole world observes International Day of solidarity with the Palestinian people.

Q- Enlighten us about the culture of Palestine. Is it being influenced by other cultures? Also tell us about Palestinian cuisines because we’ve heard that Palestine is famous for its traditional foods?

A-Palestine has its own culture and we do share some commontraditions and culture which are similar to our neighbors Jordon. Our traditional dishes include Mansafwhich is prepared with meat of sheep and cooked in a sauce of dried yogurt and we call that paste of yogurt as Jameedand this dish is served with rice. Our national dish is called Maqluba’ it’s also one of the traditional dishes in Palestine. It’s prepared with rice, meat and fried vegetables placed in a pot which is flipped upside down when served and this is why it’s called Maqluba which literally means‘upside down’.Maqluba was first invented when Sultan Salahuddin Ayubi was in Palestine, heasked for something different to eat and a woman from Jerusalem cooked meat with rice and since then it became famous food among our people. Two more eminent dishes includeMusakhan’which is prepared from roasted chicken and baked with nuts, bread and onions and Musaqa’a’is a vegetarian dish which is composed of olives, eggplant, onions, chickpeas and tomatoes. But we don’t eat spicy foods but here in Pakistan I’ve seen that you people like spicy food.Olive trees are in rich quantity in Palestine. Palestinian Medjool dates’ are very famous across the world and we export these dates to 30 countries.There’s a unique tradition followed by most of the women in Palestine, handicrafts work. Every family is into this small business of handicrafts, pottery, weaving, embroidery and olivewood carving and they sell it in markets later on. A great number of exhibitions in Ghaza let women showcase traditional handicrafts to make a living and preserve their culture likewise. Embroidered souvenirs are also an additional source of income.Recently at the end of November, while participating in an annual charity bazaar organized by Pakistan’s Foreign Ministry, our Embassy contributed by showcasing handmade sculptures and artwork on olivewood which highlighted the heritage of Palestine.

Q- Also tell us about marriage traditions in Palestine and how do you compare them with Pakistani weddings?

A- I have attended a wedding here in Islamabad and again it was so very good to witness an amazing gathering. Yes, there are some similarities like we also have 3 days long wedding. And we also have a special event specially designed for girls like yours (Mehandi Event) we also have an event in which all girls sit and sing songs, dance and they also put this myrtle paste (Henna) on their hands. But before the wedding starts, there’s this tradition according to whichin case you want to get married you have to take your family to the Mayor and have to make a request to Mayor, and there is time period of about 6 months between marriage and making a request thenafter the approval of your request you can do Nikahso it’s a whole legal process. After Nikah main event starts. On wedding day, groom enters the wedding place on a horse, accompanied by his family and friends and they also dotraditional Palestinian folk dance. Food is served in evening. All these traditions are very old and still embedded in our people and our people are committed to their customs and traditions. And even if someone wants to marry from outsidefamily, he/she is free to do it.It’s really motivating that there’re many women from Pakistan who married Palestinian men and many of the Palestinian women have even married Pakistani men.

Q- What is the education status of Palestine? What educational opportunities are provided by your country for young people and especially girls and women?

A- Women in Palestine are free to get education and go to universities. Our local families encourage young girls to get education. It’s not considered a good thing in Palestine if a person is not educated. Parents out there encourage their children to get education at any cost. That’s why we have a literacy rate of around100 percent which shows how much Palestinian natives are concerned about education and unquestionably they know it’s importance. Our people speak good English in fact it’s used as a second language in Palestine and so it is widely spoken. English is taught in all our educational institutions and our people are aware of the fact that it’s important to learn international language. In major towns and cities, people also speak French, German and Spanish. And even our women are making us proud outside Palestine also.

Q- It’s a myth that more young people mean more resistance in Palestine do you agree with this statement?

A- Well, as you said it’s a myth and there’s nothing like that. But yes, we also can’t deny the fact that just like Pakistan our population also consists of more than 65 percent of young people. Our 1 and a half million people are martyrs and imprisoned and more than 7 million are outside Palestine as refugees. So, we have large families in Palestine, and it’s taken as a faith (akeeda) because of the fact that our people are fighting for their rights and we see massive killings, our people have been imprisoned and martyred while defending their holy places and still struggling for a free homeland so, our next young generations, those young Palestinians will also take inspiration from their parents and grandparents in a way that how their ancestors sacrificed their lives for freedom.

Q- What do you expect from Muslim world? Are you satisfied with the role of other Muslim countries in support of Palestinian cause?

A Muslim countries have always supported Palestine without a doubt. But we hope for more support. Talking about Pakistan, as I already mentioned, Palestine has always got enough support and love from Pakistan and we are grateful to our brother country for its assistance in all matters. Few countries support us from core of heart like Pakistan I’m not saying this because I’m here today, but I actually mean it. I would not like to target anyone while answering this. I would just say that only sitting together and consoling and debating an issue isn’t enough there’s more to be done by the Muslim world. Unfortunately, we don’t see a united MuslimUmmah today everyone is busy in fulfilling one own’s interests.

Q- Business and trade have vital importance in contemporary times. What incentives are you planning to improve, boost and open up economic links between both countries?

A- That’s very important thing. There are rich businessmen in Palestine who’re looking forward to investing and balancing trade relations with Pakistan, currently, we are working for trade incentives to bring together the business communities of both countries which’ll help to further strengthen economic and diplomatic ties. In a recent meeting with Chairman Senate, Sadiq Sanjrani we have debated this issue and Insha’Allah we’re planning to proceed with business delegations soon because I believe that it will help generate economy for both states. We import some goods from other countries which cost us very expensive, but I’ve seen the same quality products here in Pakistan with cheaper rates so why don’t import from our brother state in cheaper cost having the same good quality. We’re working in this sector and sooner or later we’ll be signing a trade agreement. There’s only 20 million of trade between Pakistan and Palestine. Talking about Palestine we have many banks and most of them are recognized as international banks. As I already mentioned that we’ve rich olive market and we have exported 10 million olive trees to many countries.

Q- You just mentioned about olive market it is said that olive harvest season is known to be the symbol of resistance in Palestine what’s the insight?

A- Right, olives are major agricultural crop of Palestine. World’s oldest olive trees, like some 4000 to 5000 years old, are present in Palestine which shows that olive trees are an essential part of our landscape. Our annual olive harvest plays a significant role in cultural and economic sectors.47 percent of the total cultivated agricultural area is comprised of more than 10 million cultivation of olive trees. A large number of populations rely on olives and olive oil for primary and secondary incomes. So, you can say that olive harvest is more like a tradition for our people and this tradition is as ancient as Palestine and basically it narrates relationship of those harvesters with their lands. And reason why it is linked with resistance because it’s the specialty of olive trees that they grow in toughest conditions, their roots are deep and stick to earth and stand firm against all odds of nature just like our nation who’s confronting challenges of occupation, struggling for their homeland and sacred places but they have not overlookedhope and Insha’Allah victory will be ours one day.

Q- What’s your take on Israeli occupation of Palestine and how much this occupation has affected tourism in Palestine?

A- In Palestine, at the moment we have this major issue related to Al Aqsa Mosque.From 2 years Jews are planning to occupy it and every day they are trying to enter Al Aqsa Mosque.This sacred mosque doesn’t just belong to Palestinianpeople, but it belongs to whole Muslim ummah. They have already occupied the area around the mosque so in case our natives have to come to pray there they have to take long route and pass through multiple check postsset by Israel. It’s not like that it’s not safe to go and pray there. We are free to go and offer prayers.Responsibility of mosque from inside is on Palestinian and King of Jordan as declared by the UN. There are about 2000 workers inside there who are Palestinians. Every day Jewish settlement wants to enter and they’re fighting Palestinian people for its complete occupation. Being Muslims it’s our believe that it’s a special and sacred gift to us from Allah Almighty we pray there but we have to travel through difficult road which is occupied by Jews for example I’m from south of Palestine if I have to enter Al Aqsa the distance will be 55 km and I have to cross more than 10 check points set by Israeli occupiers. But one interesting thing, Jews nationals of Palestine, you’ll be surprised to hear, that they refused occupation and they’re working in Palestine but they’re in less number. And during the severe crises one Jewish man even supported 1 and a half million Muslims praying inside Al Aqsa. Can you believe he was a Jew, but he was a Palestinian national and a businessman and he showed solidarity to his nation by protecting Muslims while they were praying inside.In Palestine we are facing major issues like Israeli occupation, massive killings, settlement for land, they are destroying our olive trees and despite this whole scenario we have 4 million of tourists every year. To accommodate those tourists, we have several hotels in Al Quds, Ramallah,Bethlehem,Jericho,Hebron,Nablus and Ghaza and most of them are international hotels.

Q- We have heard that Christians and Muslims share a unique bond of friendship in Palestine how much true is that?

A- It’s 100 percent correct.There are about 10 percent Christians in Palestine and they also have their sacred churches in Jerusalem. It’s almost impossible to identify who’s a Muslim and who’s a Christian. Muslims and Christians have good relations and they are very close. Christians even fast in solidarity with Muslims in Ramadan. Christians and Muslims share a special bond there. During the occupation of north, Jews didn’t allow all the mosques in Palestine to call out Azaan. Our Christianbrothers came forward to help us they even allowed us to call out Azaan from their churches. They managed to place loud speakers in their churches. And Jerusalem is not only home to the holy sites for Muslims but for Christians also.Their most important holiest sites include Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, where Jesus Christ was born and another holiest one is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. There’s a hill in Jerusalem known as Golgotha and on the top of that hill, there’s the holiest Christian shrine in the Old City known as the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Q- What are ongoing projects on which you’ll be working if you can share some with us?

A- I want to do more in terms of strengthening economic ties and also, I’m planning to invite 100 to 200 businessmen from Palestine for 10 days visit of the main economic cities of Pakistan so that they can see main industrial sites here and things can move on. We import some industrial goods and medicines from other countries which cost us expensive as I already mentioned that same quality products at cheaper rates are available here in Pakistan. Now I’m planning to begin from this road. We are planning to initiate olive trade with Pakistan and even Palestine can help Pakistan grow its own olive trees here.

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