It was a little over a year ago, at one of the glitzy events of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, when Afghanistan’s ambassador to the UN at the time, Ghulam Esqzai, burst onto the stage and sobbingly begged for someone to help save his family members.
Diplomats moved worriedly around the room as Esqzai said that as they continued to sip Old Fashioneds, the Taliban took control of the capital Kabul and executed massively.
The threat was close this time; her niece, her husband and their children were in real danger because the government is specifically prosecuting the ambassador’s family, one of the strongest voices against the Taliban in the world. While he represents the old regime in New York, all the rest of his family in Afghanistan has been banished or “disappeared” – and his niece Kawsar could be next.
It was during this same dinner that the ambassador met one of the biggest donors of the international relief organization “IsraAID”, and learned that a rescue mission was being organized for Afghanistan. He begged that his late-stage niece also be added to the list.
“When we heard about Kawaser’s case, we realized we had to act fast“, explains Pulitzer, CEO of the organization IsraAID who led the rescue operation with Dana Herman and Roni Abulafia, who work with the organization. “Because of his family line, she was at the highest risk level.”
A year later, another gathering, another event involving prime ministers and senior officials.
This time, Kawaser herself takes the stage, wearing a veil, and excitedly hugs Yotam, whom she hasn’t seen since the rescue. “I already invited him to my house for Rosh Hashanah,” she smiles with a wink, Yotam surprised by her knowledge of the Hebrew calendar.
“Until the last moment, I did not know that those who were helping me were Israelis“, she said. “I was shocked. I never imagined that I would be standing in the United States in this same room where my uncle called for help, and that I would share it with the Israelis.”
Since his rescue, Kawser has studied with diligently the history of the Jewish people and the Afghan connection.
“I had heard about Israel and the Jews before that, but always in the context of the conflict and Palestine. I didn’t have a strong opinion about Israel because I’m not interested in politics, but everything has changed since the rescue.
Now my dream is to come and visit Israel. I heard the people there are very smart and handsome “. Yotam tries to lower his expectations. “I’m not sure about the second statement,” he says – but she insists, “That’s what they say! Let me see for myself.”
Today, Kawser lives with her husband and three children in Virginia and works as an English interpreter for Dari, one of Afghanistan’s two official languages:
“I now feel safe and happy that my children are growing up here and going to school. My daughter was born here and has a passport, but it is still difficult for us to work without legal status because we do not have a card green. My husband studies and I work full time. I work hard and it’s barely enough to survive. Yet I can live here in peace – do what I want, dress how I want. This freedom is priceless.” .
Barely a year ago, she was on the verge of losing all hope. The Taliban were then in the midst of a conquest campaign to try to regain control of Afghanistan, at the same time as the withdrawal of American forces of the country – 20 years after the attacks of September 11.
The takeover of the Islamic terrorist organization ended with the fall of the capital Kabul in August. “No one expected the Taliban to take power so quickly.”recalls Kawsar.
“At the time, I was working in international and American voluntary organizations. From the Taliban’s point of view, it’s a double sin – they don’t approve of a woman leaving home and working, certainly not with strangers. And when my uncle became an ambassador to the United Nations and spoke out against the Taliban, we have become a much bigger target.“
“After each of his speeches, we received threats on our lives and were forced to hide in our homes for weeks,” she said. “We destroyed all the family documents we had, we lived in constant anxiety. When we realized there was no other choice, we left everything behind, packed a small bag with clothes and cookies, and left for the airport.
My husband carried our last one on his shoulders and I held the eldest in my hand.
When we arrived at the airport, we saw thousands of people standing there in the heat of the heat. Overcrowding, hitting, kicking.
I was already seven months pregnant and after being kicked in the stomach several times, I decided I couldn’t take the risk, and we went home.”
“The next day, same story. And again the following days. “The fourth time we arrived, the Taliban had just taken control of the airport and started to open the fire . I’ve decided that I won’t go back there again.”
If not to escape by air, maybe by land, she thought – “But even when we reached the border with Pakistan, the authorities there wouldn’t allow us to cross. It was so hot that we got sick.”
Then I received a message from my uncle the ambassador that I had to get ready to leave. Everything was secret and fast, I didn’t know what was planned.
The next day, she received the order to reach the border with the Tajikistan:
“We arrived at the border with 125 people, and we didn’t know what to do. The Taliban told us we had to fly out within two hours. otherwise they won’t be responsible for what might happen to us.” so we ran away from there. The roads were terribly difficult. There are no roads, everything is dirt, shaking. I had to check the condition of the fetus. When I arrived at the hospital, they told me that I was endangering the life of the fetus and that I had to stay there and be hospitalized.
During this time, theIsraelAID team who awaits them on the other side of the border encounters its own drama. “The operation to obtain passports was a story in itself,” says Pulitzer. “We contacted the Afghan ambassador in Moscow who prepared the passports for us and sent them to us in Tajikistan. From there we tried to smuggle them into Afghanistan, but the Taliban stopped them at the border.
We were sure we had failed, but to our surprise the Taliban decided to find the people listed on the documents and return the passports to them. They tried to convey the image of a functioning government and allowed people to use their passports to escape.
Kawser received the happy news of the passports while she was in her hospital bed. “Suddenly I got a call telling me I had to go home – there are buses that will take us to the airport. I was faced with a dilemma of whether I should leave the hospital and put the fetus in danger, but I knew that staying in Afghanistan was a painful death for me and the fetus.decided to go.”
She still cries when she remembers the second the wheels of the plane hit the ground. “The moment they announced on the plane that we had landed in Tajikistan was the happiest moment of my life. I cried with happiness. Then at the border I met Yotam, and I saw the logo of Israel. I said to him – ‘Hey, I know what aid is but why IsraAID? Then they explained to me that it was an Israeli organization and I just didn’t understand what and why. I was shocked, why are you helping Afghans? I did not understand, after all, there is no connection between us.”
She turns to them: “I really want to thank you, without you we wouldn’t be here.” The audience in the room enthusiastically applauds Kawaser’s story, but she wants to remind them that the end is not yet written.
“I fear for my family there. The immediate family has been rescued, but we still have many loved ones. My cousin, 13, lives right next to the Taliban stronghold. She left home one day and even if she wore a burqa, one of the neighbors followed her to the family home and asked her parents to marry her. The parents of course refused because she was only a child, but he insisted and they had to run away immediately. They took nothing with them and are now in hiding, as they received warnings that if found they would be executed.
“This is just my family’s story, but there are so many more stories like this,” she says. “I always need your support. All of you. People sell their children for 300 dollars to survive. I beg IsraAID, journalists, diplomats to help us.
Afghanistan has grown so much over the past 20 years, and the Taliban arrived and overnight they took us back to the Middle Ages. Everyone is in a burqa. We have no power as individuals, we need the help of the world. An entire nation succumbed to terrorism. How did the world accept this? A country was simply given as a gift to terrorists. I don’t understand how the world is silent?
We wish to say thanks to the author of this short article for this remarkable content
Afghanistan: shocked to learn that Israelis saved her