War in Israel, earthquake and grief in Nepal

These are the individual tragedies of some of the 10 Nepalis killed in the Hamas attack on Saturday. Seven of those killed and one missing were from Far-western Nepal and were among 49 agriculture undergrads from Sudurpaschim University in Tikapur selected for the Israel government’s ‘earn and learn’ program. They were all working at Kibbutz Alumim near the Gaza border, and were killed in two separate attacks by Hamas fighters on bunkers near the farm.

Read also: Nepalis confirmed killed in Hamas attack

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Dipesh Raj Bista

Dipesh Raj Bista, 24, was hiding in a bunker with other Nepali students at Kibbutz Alumim. One of the students, Ganesh Nepali of Bajhang, had to go to the restroom and had just stepped out of the door when he was gunned down by Hamas militants outside. Eye witness Pramod KC who survived the attack said Dipesh then also went out of the door with his hands in the air, shouting “Don’t shoot, we are Nepali!” But he was also felled in a hail of automatic gunfire. The militants then lobbed two grenades into the bunker. Another Nepali, Bipin Joshi from Dhangadi threw one of the grenades out, but the other one exploded killing and injuring the remaining Nepalis.     

Dipesh was from the village of Lekum in Darchula, and like the others was an undergrad at the Sudupaschim University in Tikapur. He was the sole support of the family after his father Ashok died of cancer. His mother Parbati fainted on hearing the news and has been admitted to hospital.

“He used to call our mother every evening,” Dipesh’s sister Mamata recalled. “But when we called him on Saturday we could not reach him and started getting really worried.”

Mamata remembers her younger brother as being brilliant and studious. He wanted to earn money to pay for their younger brother who is now enrolled in the MBBS program in Dharan.   

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Padam Thapa

Padam got a fond farewell when he left his home in Doti for Israel last month. Friends and relatives wished him good luck in social media posts. Western Nepal had just suffered an earthquake, and his sister-in-law Mekhu Adhikari had told him in a call that there had been scary aftershocks. Adhikari hung up and got busy at work, so she had no time to look at her phone.

But when she did, there was a short text message from Padam: ‘I am dying, bhauju.’ She tried calling back but could not reach him. Then she heard on the news that Nepali students had been caught up in the Hamas attack on Israel. 

Padam’s father Tikaram, 65, has hypertension, and had to be hospitalised as soon as he heard the news that his son was among the dead. Padam was the youngest of the four siblings, and the most enterprising and cheerful.

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Ganesh Nepali

The last time Ganesh called from Israel on Friday evening, he was worried that the epicenter of the earthquake that had just struck western Nepal was in his home district of Bajhang, and he told his elder brother Bikash to take care of their parents and stay safe. 

The family house had been damaged in the earthquake, but it was Ganesh who was soon going to be in a dangerous situation. Hours after that call, Bikash got news of the attack by Hamas militants on southern Israel. When he found Ganesh’s name on the Nepal Embassy list of 10 fatalities, he was unable to immediately tell their parents and other siblings.

The family is in shock that this happened to Ganesh just a month after he was selected to go to Israel. He was a bright agriculture undergraduate student in Tikapur. Bikash used to always help Ganesh with his homework, and had been a guardian to him. Ganesh was studying to specialise in tissue culture.

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Ashish Chaudhary

Kanaiyalal Chaudhary, 70, still vividly remembers the excitement in his grandson Ashish’s voice when he called him from Kathmandu airport last month, saying he was about board his flight to Israel. Twenty-five year old Ashish’s parents work in Bangalore, and he was taking care of his grandfather who in turn had taken care of him single-handedly since childhood in his village in Kailali. Kanaiyalal’s wife had died earlier, and his daughter is paralysed.  

Ashish was excited about learning new farming techniques in arid regions while in Israel and to apply some of those skills in Nepal when he returned in 11 months. 

Ashish Chaudhary was among 13 Nepalis who survived a previous Hamas grenade attack on a bunker, and had sought shelter in another nearby bunker along with 20 Thai workers. Suddenly, Hamal militants stormed that bunker also. They took away seven Thais along with one of the Nepalis, Bipin Joshi, and sprayed the rest with bullets and lobbed several grenades. Ashish was killed on the spot along with five other Nepalis.

The elderly Kaniyalal is immersed in grief. He had raised Ashish singlehandedly, and feels the loss deeply. His wish is to be able to see his grandson one time before performing his last rites. Between sobs, he tells us, “What do I have to live for now? Why didn’t death take me instead of my grandson?” 

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Rajan Phulara

Before he had left for Israel, 23-year-old Rajan Phulara of Shikhar Municipality in Doti had dreams of coming back home and applying for the Civil Service exam. Rajan became one of the 10 Nepalis confirmed dead in the Hamas attack on southern Israel near Gaza this week.

Phulara was among the BSc Agriculture students from Sudur Paschim University who had flown to Israel for the Learn and Earn 11-months internship program. Only a week ago, during a video call with his uncle Rajendra Phulara, he had shared his plans for when he would be back in Nepal.

“I’m going to learn new things here but I will implement them in my country, after my civil service exam,” Rajendra, who works at Doti Hospital, recalls his nephew telling him.

During the call, Rajan had turned the camera around towards Gaza. “That right there is Gaza,” he had said. “There can be an attack any time, we have been told to seek shelter in a bunker if there is one.”

It was in one of those bunkers that Rajan together with Ashish Chaudhary (see above) and four others were gunned down by Hamas militants.

Rajan’s father Ghyanshyam fainted on being told of his son’s death. He had taken loans to fund his son's higher studies.

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Lokendra Singh Dhami

The remote and tiny village of Malikarjun in Darchula district is in shock. Neighbours have all crowded to the house of Lokendra Singh Ghami, 24 who was among the agriclutre students selected to go to Israel for a year of study-work. Like the others, Lokendra’s wife had spoken to him on Friday and he was high spirits, asking about his five-year-old daughter and two-year-old son.

Dhami’s brother is in the Nepal Army, and by coincidence is posted at the UN Peacekeeping contingent in Lebanon at the moment. Already shocked by Lokendra’s death, his parents are now also worried about their other son.

Local government authorities have tried to console the family, and said they will ensure that the body will be brought home soon. A family that was preparing for Dasain festival, and the entire village, is now in deep mourning.  

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Narayan Prasad Neupane  

Hari Krishna, Narayan Prasad Neupane’s 70-year-old father, keeps losing consciousness ever since he was told his young son is dead. Narayan had lost his mother at age 5 and was very close to his father. A friendly boy, Naryan was also good in studies, and his elder brother and his wife were working in Bangalore so the family could afford to send him to a good college.

“He used to say he wanted to contribute to Nepal’s progress by bringing new farming skills from Israel,” his sister Manju recalled. “He was very passionate about agriculture. We want to see him one last time, that is all we want from the government.”

Shocked neighbours have crowded around the Neupanes’ simple wooden house for support. 

Translated from reports by Khagendra Bahadur Singh, Paramnanda Pandey, Shivaraj Bhatta, Sundar Singh Dhami, Mahadeya Awasti, Pratap Oli from Paschim Today, Dhangadi. https://paschimtoday.com