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Jewish Times Asia March 2015

Regional News

Congressman to ask Pakistan to safeguard Karachi Jewish cemetery

A US congressman has made an informal request to Pakistan’s ambassador in the US for assurances that no harm would come to Karachi’s Jewish cemetery.

Republican Lee Zeldin referred to a report last year in the Guardian that described efforts by some groups to take over the land, encompassing some 300 graves. “It is my hope that the Jewish graves within the cemetery are not disturbed and that the Islamic Republic of Pakistan recognises the importance of honoring the deceased regardless of religion or ethnicity,” Zeldin wrote to the Pakistani envoy to Washington.

Congressmen Patrick E. Murphy and Steve Israel have also sent a further letter of communication to the ambassador on 30 January 2015 addressed to Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan Ambassador to the US. “These reports that a Jewish cemetery in Pakistan could be destroyed are greatly disturbing,” said Rep. Murphy. “It is a human dignity to treat the deceased with honour and respect, regardless of religion or ethnicity. Societies must demonstrate tolerance and strive to protect their religious and ethnic minorities. That is why I, along with Rep. Israel, hope to work with the ambassador to validate these reports and ask that efforts be made by the Pakistani government to preserve this sacred and historical site.” Rep. Murphy has led several efforts in recent months to protect ethnic and religious minorities. Recently, he sent a letter

Jewish grave in Karachi

Steve Israel

Patrick Murphy

to the European Union calling on member states to make a renewed commitment to combating the rise of global antiSemitism.

an area run by criminals and quite unsafe. “I sent some of my staff members to look for it and they were unable to locate it.”

Karachi’s Jewish community disappeared in the wake of anti-Jewish sentiment following the 1947 partition of the British colonies in the subcontinent into India and Pakistan, and Israel’s establishment in 1948. The community had peaked at about 1,000 at the turn of the 20th century. The largest Jewish community lived in Karachi, where there was a large synagogue and a smaller prayer hall. There were two synagogues in Peshawar, one small prayer hall in Lahore belonging to the Afghan Jewish community, and one prayer hall in Quetta. In 2010, Shoieb Yunus, a Pakistani-American filmmaker, produced the first ever documentary with original footage and photographs of the Jewish cemetery in Karachi. The piece entitled “Cemetery of The Lost Tribe” can be viewed on-line. Yunus told Jewish Times Asia at the time, “The project started with a simple newspaper article from Dawn, a daily English newspaper in Pakistan. Some young girl stumbled upon the cemetery and wrote an article about its existence. There were no pictures, no visuals, just the text.” The cemetery is located in old Karachi and it is part of the much larger interfaith Mewa Shah Graveyard. “It is a giant piece of land.” Yunus knew the neighbourhood was notoriously

Entrance to the old Jewish Cemetery in Karachi and tombstone

Yunus estimates there are somewhere between 200 and 400 graves on site, dating from the 1800s and until 1947-8, when the majority of Jews left due to the new government at that time. It is estimated that around 10-15 Jewish families currently live in Karachi.

Letter addressed to the Pakistan ambassador to the US


March 2015 • Volume 9 • Issue 10 • Adar / Nissan 5775