(CTN News) – After weeks of documenting the devastating effects of Hamas’s recent attacks, Israeli police have confirmed that many of the hostages returned to Gaza by the Islamic militant group are not Israeli.
The Israeli government said on October 25 that more than 120 of the estimated 220 hostages have foreign passports, with some being dual nationals. There were other casualties from Germany, Argentina, France, Russia, and the Philippines, for a total of over a dozen Americans.
However, 54 of them are Thai, making them the largest group. Nearly two dozen Thai citizens are still missing after the Hamas attack on October 7. Thai nationals make up the largest group of foreigners slain by Hamas.
The Thai government has often said it is not taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “We’re just there to work and earn money so we can have better lives,” Chumporn Jirachart, whose son was taken hostage by Hamas, told CNN. I ask you to please let my son go free. In the same shape he was in before he left Thailand is how I need to see him again.
Other Middle Eastern countries’ reliance on (and mistreatment of) migrant labour has received extensive media coverage, with the spotlight falling on Qatar as it hosts the World Cup in 2020. roughly 150,000 foreign workers, or roughly 4% of the entire workforce, are estimated to have been brought into Israel from other countries.
The Bank of Thailand estimates that each year, Thailand receives about $5 billion in remittances from its residents working overseas.
According to official statistics, nearly 30,000 Thai nationals work in Israel’s agriculture sector, taking advantage of the potential for greater salaries relative to their home country.
The Thai government said that 5,000 Thai laborers were in the combat zone along the Gaza strip, making up the vast majority of foreign employment in the industry.
Workers from the most impoverished parts of Thailand pay astronomical sums to recruitment firms to secure employment in Israel, only to arrive and discover that their expectations were much exaggerated.
International observers still have concerns about the treatment of workers, despite efforts to change the system, such as a bilateral agreement between Thailand and Israel signed in 2013.
According to the US State Department’s report on human trafficking from 2022, “traffickers subject some Thai men and women to forced labour in Israel’s agricultural sector by imposing conditions of long working hours, no breaks or rest days, withheld passports,” as well as “poor living conditions,” “difficulty changing employers due to limitations on work permits,” and “limited mobility.”
The role of Thai workers in the export of crops has grown significantly in recent years. After the first intifadah, a resistance movement among Palestinians opposed to Israeli occupation took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Matan Kaminer, a fellow at the Hebrew University in Jersualem who studies Thai labourers in Israel, writes that Israel adopted a policy to recruit these workers.
According to Kaminer’s dissertation, published in 2019, the Israeli government made a conscious decision to reduce the number of Palestinians employed in the country and replace them with foreign workers.
The decision to recruit from all over the world shows how difficult and expensive the struggle between Israel and Palestine is. In 2022 (pdf), the ILO reported that unemployment in Gaza had risen to 47%, at which point it urged Israel to allow more Palestinian people to seek jobs within its boundaries.
Israel has been sluggish to allow freer mobility because of security concerns, but the ILO believes that between 30,000 and 40,000 undocumented workers made the journey across the borders with the West Bank and Israel that year.