A Nepali’s lucky escape from Hamas

Student describes the three-day ordeal in a bunker near the Gaza border, and eventual rescue

This is the 43rd instalment of Diaspora Diaries, a regular series in Nepali Times with stories of Nepalis living and working abroad. 

It was a Saturday morning. Tired from the week’s work in the farm, we were looking forward to resting and catching up with families back home. It had been just over a month since we arrived in Israel.

But early morning at 5am on 7 October, we were woken up by earthquake-like jolts. We rushed outside, and there were missiles streaking across the sky and explosions. 

We found it all very exciting at first, but when the sirens went off we got worried and ruished to our little bunker to hide. There we started getting frantic calls from fellow Nepali students at Kibbutz Alumim which was 18km away.

Read also: Nepalis confirmed killed in Hamas attack

They video called us and asked for help. They said there was an explosion in their bunker and blood everywhere. Our hands trembled as we called our college representative, but the whole area was under attack and there was no way any ambulance could make it in.

Later, even our wifi and electricity got cut off, and we could not get in touch with our friends or anyone else. When the internet was restored in the evening, we found out that 17 of our friends at Alumim had also taken shelter in a bunker, but had come under attack from terrorists.  

We had arrived in Israel just a month before under the ‘Learn and Earn’ program. We were just settling in and getting a hang of things. The first three weeks were spent just getting used to the desert environment in southern Israel. At the farm, it was long hours of manual work sorting, grading and packaging onions. 

Nepalis killed in Israel Hamas attack NT

In the bunker that first day, I was worried that my family was worried about me because I could not go my weekly call. Had my parents and brother back in Nepal found out what has happened in Israel? My silence could have made them assume the worst. The minute I got a chance, I called them to let them know I was safe.

In the three days we spent in the bunker, it was difficult to speak to my family to describe the situation. I would feel overwhelmed and tearful when they asked how I was doing. I could not tell them everything that was really going on because they would panic. I am okay, don’t worry was all I could come up with. After that, I preferred just to exchange text messages. 

Read also: War in Israel, earthquake and grief in Nepal

In that bunker after being woken up by sirens, I remember writing a note on my phone describing the situation since sleep was out of the question. 

अहिले यहाँ इजरायलमा कति बेला के हुन्छ, केही आतो पतो छैन। हामी साथीहरु विगत शनिबार देखि निरन्तर २ दिनसम्म बंकरमा लुकेर आफ्नो ज्यान जोगाउन बाँधे भाको छम्। यहाँ सोचें जस्तो सहज केही पनि छैन। कति बेला आकासमा कालो धुवाँको मुस्लो उठ्छ थाहा नै हुन्न। निकै नै त्रसित माहोल छ मिसाईलहरु कति बेला का बाट आयो पातो पाइनँ। साईरनको त्यो ठूलो अनि भैंकर आवाजले सतो पुत्लो लिन्छ। आकाश मा हेलिकप्टर अनि फाईटर जेटहरु निरन्तर उडिरहेका छन्। बंकरमा पनि सोचें जस्तै सहज केही छैन् , न खाना न पनि अनि त्यो चिसो भुईमा यो लामो रात त्रासै त्रासमा नसुती बिताउनु कुनै नर्कमा नै भाको अनुभूति हुन्छ। आजको रात निकै लामो हुने छ। पर्खाई त्यो भोलि शुभ विहानीको छ।

(Here in Israel, we have no idea what will happen next. Since Saturday we have been trying to stay alive for the past two days in this bunker. Anything can happen at any time, without warning there are black smoke trails of approaching missiles. The loud wail of sirens is frightening. Fighter jets and helicopters are flying all the time. In the cold floor of the bunker, there is no food, no water and in the long and scary sleepless night it feels like hell. This is going to be a long night. We are just waiting for good tidings in the morning.)

Nepalis killed in Israel Hamas attack NT

The farm dogs are also scared, and join us the in the bunker. We first thought we should chase them out since they might bark and draw attention to us, instead we welcomed their companionship and they slept next to us.  

In the morning we called everyone that we could think of: the Nepal Embassy, government back home, everyone. Sometimes, we had to step out of the bunker to make calls. The response was not so proactive, so we started sharing videos on social media to draw more attention, hoping for some action.

When we first got the call from the embassy to get ready, we were thrilled. They told us to just pack our documents and laptops. We left all our luggage behind. We even called our families to tell them we were coming home. But that day no one came to receive us and we waited in vain. It meant another long scary night in the cold bunker. 

Finally, help came the next day and 32 of us from different farms were escorted by the Israel Army out of the Netivot area to safety. Leaving behind our belongings, we came to Ramat Negev farm which is where we are at now.

Being away from yesterday’s place feels a lot safer. This is far from the war zone and out in the desert near the Egypt border without many residential buildings. We thought we would be brought to Tel Aviv but instead, here we are for the time being. 

Finally, we realise how the accumulated stress and fatigue of the last three days has worn us out. There was fear from constant sounds of sirens and explosions, and the urgent need to coordinate with different agencies for our rescue, assure our families we were okay. Most importantly, we grieved the friends we lost. Our friend Bipin is still missing, there is no news about him. 

Here at the farm, besides us Nepalis there are other colleagues from Thailand and Zimbabwe. After what feels like ages, we finally got to eat warm food which felt good and made us happy, that too in the company of friends. We are spending time talking, trying to recover and gain back our energy. 

We are in touch with our families who are also relieved that we are away from the frontline. But they are desperate for us to come home. And so are we. Although we are relatively safe here, there is still uncertainty, what if the war spreads to where we are and something goes wrong again. What if things escalate? 

Nepalis killed in Israel Hamas attack NT

We want to return to Nepal, and need to be rescued as soon as possible. They should not wait for things to normalise to rescue us. If things get back to normal, we can come back by ourselves. 

What I wrote last night was in an empty stomach about waiting for good tidings in the morning. 

पर्खाइ त्यो भोलीको शुभ बिहानी नेपालमा देख्ने रहर छ । 

(Today, I write: in a full stomach and in company of friends in a relatively safe area, I try to get some sleep waiting for tomorrow morning, and the yearning to be back home in Nepal. 

Diaspora Diaries is a regular column in Nepali Times providing a platform to share experiences of living, working, studying abroad. Authentic and original entries can be sent to [email protected] with Diaspora Diaries in the subject line.

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