As in Nepal, Thais mourn nationals killed in Israel

The bodies of 30 Thai farm workers killed by Hamas have started arriving in Bangkok

Israel’s Ambassador to Thailand Orna Sagiv pays her respects to the eight Thai workers whose bodies were flown home from Israel at Bangkok airport on 20 October. The bodies of 22 others are still being identified. Photo courtesy: Khaosod English

The Israel-Hamas conflict has seen a fortnight of horrific carnage of innocents by both sides, but families in two faraway Asian countries are also grieving — in Nepal and Thailand.

Ten Nepali students working in Kibbutz Alumim were killed and one is still missing, presumed to have been taken hostage. So far, 30 Thai farm workers have also been confirmed killed by Hamas gunmen in the early morning of 7 October, and 19 were abducted.

The missing Nepali, Bipin Joshi from Dhangadi, was hiding with other Nepalis and Thais when Hamas fighters threw a grenade into their bunker. Joshi had the presence of mind to hurl the grenade out, but another one exploded killing some of the Nepalis and Thais.

The surviving Nepalis and Thais then fled to another nearby bunker that they thought was safer, but Hamas fighters stormed that one too, and sprayed those inside with gunfire. They then took away seven of the Thais as hostages.

Those are among the total 19 Thai nationals who were abducted, and the missing Nepali is suspected to be among them.

As in Nepal, media commentators in Thailand have pointed out that despite the legitimate grievances of the Palestinian people against Israeli occupation of their land, the indiscriminate slaughter of innocent civilians and foreigners by Hamas was counterproductive.

‘Hamas has made a bad name for the Palestinian cause, eliciting condemnation and opposition all the way over here in Thailand,’ wrote Thitinan Pongsudhirak of Chulalongkorn University in the Bangkok Post

‘For the Thai people, Hamas' killing spree on Thai workers is unfathomable. Thailand has never done anything to harm Hamas nor caused any trouble for the inhabitants of the Palestinian territories.’ 

Thai media have quoted survivors who have returned who say that Hamas could have specifically targeted Thais because local Palestinians were resentful of foreigners taking agriculture jobs aways from them. The Israel government started replacing Palestinian farm and construction workers with migrant labour from various Asian countries after a spurt in militant attacks during the 1987 Intifada.

While the Nepalis in Israel were mainly young university students studying agriculture on 11-month ‘earn and learn’ schemes in Israel, the Thais here were long term farm workers. 

There are an estimated 30,000 Thai workers in Israel’s farms, and 8,400 of those in the conflict zone are now asking their government to urgently repatriate them. Some 700 arrived in Bangkok on charter flights on Friday. The bodies of 8 of the Thai workers killed were also flown in, while the others will be sent home after being identified.

There were 265 Nepali students in various parts of Israel, and 18 of the 10 who were killed were in Kibbutz Alumin. Most of them were repatriated to Kathmandu on a Nepal Airlines flight on 12 October. Four of the bodies of Nepalis arrive in Kathmandu on Sunday.

Just like the Nepalis who were killed were from poor farming families in the remote far western districts of Nepal, most of the Thai farm workers are also from Thailand’s poorest northeastern regions.

Similar to the Nepali good samaritan like caregiver Prabha Ghimire and others, who have helped wounded Nepali workers in hospitals in Tel Aviv, the press here has also been all praise for Thai women in Israel who have gone out of their way to help their compatriots caught up in the war.

Viphavadi Vannachai, 40, a Thai married to an Israeli travelled to dangerous areas on the Gaza border to rescue stranded workers, help the wounded and assisted with repatriation of those who wanted to return.

Thai families of those taken hostage have pleaded for their release, saying they had “nothing to do with the Israel-Palestine conflict” and were there “simply there to earn money”.

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