Malaysia and Indonesia have been among the most strident in condemning Israel’s counteroffensive in Gaza and the toll it is taking on Palestinian civilians as the conflict between Hamas and Israel escalates. But in Thailand Israel’s activities are well-supported.
It may appear unexpected that a primarily Buddhist country that Thailand views itself as peaceful and harmonious would support Israeli military activities that appear to contravene international humanitarian law. One important reason is that Thai migrant labourers were conspicuous among the victims of Hamas’ Oct. 7 surprise onslaught on Israeli towns and farms near Gaza. According to the Thai authorities, 33 workers were killed, 18 were injured, and 22 were kidnapped and deported to Gaza.
As a result of the catastrophe, many Thais have become antagonistic to the Palestinian cause, despite the fact that there are a considerable number of Thai workers in Israel.
Experts and professors, including myself, who have shared remarks with Thai media about the Israel-Palestine conflict that differ from the current consensus have suffered harsh criticism. Thousands of people have posted on YouTube, Facebook, and TikTok claiming I am not Thai since I sympathise with Palestinian civilians and am a Muslim scholar.
“Of course, you are Muslim, so you support them,” is a common remark. “You sound like a spokesperson for Hamas.” Commenters frequently use the term khaek, a Thai slur for Muslims and South Asians.
Many Thai social media users believe that Thai Muslim intellectuals and experts are forsaking Thailand. Commenters argue that because Hamas has slain Thais, individuals who profess sympathy for Palestinians are no longer Thai.
“They assassinated our people.” “They deserve annihilation,” one critic stated. “Don’t forget that they killed our people,” one person said. “Aren’t you Thai?” Similarly, they demonstrate the level of anger sparked by Hamas’ attack.
Thailand’s repatriation operation has faced various hurdles, but embassy personnel in Tel Aviv and Abu Dhabi have worked diligently to assist workers yearning to return home.
Some have changed their minds about leaving Israel at the last minute, while the majority refuse to even sign up to go. Some are waiting for reimbursement for labour already done, while others are hoping the crisis will end soon.
when a result, even when the violence in Gaza intensifies and rocket fire from Lebanon into Israel grows, many Thais prefer to face the horrors of war rather than return to Thailand, where they may earn ten times as much as migrants. Indeed, the Thai Public Broadcasting Service reported last week that 424 Thais who had gone home wanted to return to Israel, while 76 others were still thinking about it.
Thai workers have been more prevalent in Israel after the end of the first Intifada in 1987. At the time, Israel began replacing Palestinian commuters from Gaza and the West Bank with Asian and African migrants, particularly in agriculture.
Although Israel signed a formal labour welfare agreement with Thailand in 2011, further investigations by Human Rights Watch and the BBC revealed that Thai agricultural labourers continued to face abuse while living in deplorable conditions.
Many of the deaths were traced by Israeli health officials to a hereditary cardiac condition common among some tribes in northeast Thailand that can cause sudden death in young males.
Following the Hamas attack, the Thai government should explore how it may strengthen its ability to respond to similar scenarios. Until now, the Ministry of Labour has frequently failed to appropriately advise outbound migrants about the risks of working near conflict zones, as well as to consistently monitor and assure the welfare of abroad workers.
When dealing with conflicts and violence, generalising about religions, races, and nations is neither helpful nor often destructive. Thais must understand that sympathising with Palestinians does not mean treachery to Thailand.
Associating Palestine with Hamas is a distortion, as does implying that all Jews support Israel’s strong reprisal.
Meanwhile, according to a Thai Shia Muslim official, Hamas representatives have guaranteed Thai negotiators that Thai hostages abducted in Israel will be released after Israel concludes its offensive in the Gaza Strip, where they are being kept.
On Tuesday, Saiyid Sulaiman Husaini, leader of a Shia Muslim club in Thailand, said the agreement was made during meetings between negotiators selected by Parliament President Wan Muhamad Noor Matha and Hamas members at the office of an adviser to Iran’s president.
Areepen Utarasin, Lerpong Sayed, and Sayyid Mumin Sakkitticha made up the negotiating team.
Mr Saiyid stated that the discussions for the release of the Thai captives had concluded after two to three rounds of talks.
Mr Areepen, an assistant to the parliament president, later confirmed the meetings, which he said took place last Thursday in Tehran.
According to Mr Saiyid, Hamas proposed to release Thai prisoners detained in the Gaza Strip in exchange for Israel ceasing its offensive or agreeing to a ceasefire. He stated that it is not safe for them to leave Gaza till that time.
According to him, Hamas has verified that it is holding 19 Thai captives. Everyone is safe and healthy.
He stated that Hamas has not to authenticate the names of three more Thais who were supposedly captured by the Foreign Ministry.
The only potential escape route, according to Mr Saiyid, was the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, located in the far south of the Gaza Strip. According to him, the Thai government may need to seek clearance and support from Egypt for this.
Mr Areepen stated in parliament yesterday that his delegation met with Hamas leaders last Thursday.
He stated that Hamas representatives stated that the Thai hostages were being well-protected so that they could subsequently inform the international community about their living conditions and fair treatment by Hamas.
Hamas promised to release the Thais shortly, but did not specify when.
According to Hamas representatives, releasing a timeline could spark an attack, leading to the mistaken belief that Hamas was harming the captives, Mr Areepen claimed.
He claimed that his delegation met in Tehran because Iran supported Hamas and had control over it. He said that his mission was the first to hold formal talks with the group since the Israel-Hamas conflict began on October 7.
According to Mr Areepen, the parliament president’s coordination team is still in Iran, waiting to further arrange the expected release of the Thai hostages, while Mr Wan also plans to travel to Iran to visit the hostages if they are released as promised.
Mr Wan’s secretary, Muk Suleiman, urged Thais to believe Hamas will keep its pledge.
Source: Nikkei, Post Media