11 July 2024

The ongoing war between Israel and Hamas will cause human suffering beyond imagination, given the longstanding conflict of the past seven decades. While the humanitarian convoys have been allowed to enter the Gaza Strip, through the Rafah crossing point, there must be a guarantee that this aid will reach the victims in need.

The whole world is now fixated on the expected outcome of the upcoming ground offensive by the Israeli defence forces. Despite appeals from key global leaders, urging Israel to delay or cancel the offensive to allow the Palestinians to take refuge in safe places in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his war Cabinet are not listening. The surprise attack by the Hamas on October 7th has tarnished his government’s reputation almost every respect. In the coming days, he will display all of Israel’s military might and power to annihilate Hamas, no matter how much damage it will cause.

At the moment, countries with nationals being held hostage by Hamas are trying to secure their release. If they are not released prior to the ground offensive, which could come at any time, they will certainly become collateral damage. If anything happens to the hostages, the Israeli forces would be blamed.

It is interesting to note that, in the past weeks, the hostage saga has appeared in the news headlines all over the world with a focus on the Western hostages. Among the 200 foreigners held by Hamas, 19 are innocent Thai workers from various kibbutzim and moshav. With the assistance of Qatar and the International Committee of the Red Cross, two Thais were released last weekend. This was a good omen that in the coming days more would be released.

The Thai workers have nothing to do with the Israel-Hamas conflict. They are working in the red zones to earn an honest living, taking care of orchards and farms for Israeli bosses. They number as many as 12,500, nearly half of the 26,000 Thais in Israel. These workers are mainly from Isaan, Thailand’s poorest region.

Truth be told, before the attack, nobody in the wider Thai community in Israel would have thought it possible that Hamas could launch such an ambush. Some of the Thais who fled the red zones are considered veterans, as they have been living dangerously in the southern region of Israel, near the Gaza Strip, for several years. They survived previous attacks by Hamas back in 2014 and earlier.

Two weeks have elapsed and the Srettha government is becoming wary about the workers who still want to work there, even though the war continues. They are desperate to earn money for their families back home, as they have spent all their money to secure jobs in Israel. As a quick remedy, the government has pledged to provide compensation for the returnees who could not fulfil their employment contracts. Given the new reality, it is imperative that the Thai government, especially the Ministry of Labour and the recruitment companies review the dire situation facing Thai workers in Israel.

After all the concerned authorities have undertaken future risk assessments for Thai workers, they should be dissuaded from working in dangerous areas. If they insist, they must be trained to live in war-like conditions and in secure places, not makeshift shelters as is often the case. Obviously, their employment contracts must be improved, to provide better protection and conditions. Without clear and forceful official guidance, the recruitment companies could lure the workers to return. Other nationalities, especially the Filipinos, have been told by their governments to stay away from Israel’s southern region.

In the coming months, the Thai government must seek to increase worker quotas in other countries, especially in Taiwan and South Korea, the two most popular nations. Most importantly, under the Srettha government’s economic growth stimuli and measures, it is hoped that the Thais will get higher pay and enjoy a better quality of life at home, without having to risk their young lives overseas.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn