‘I want to see his body’: Nepali dreams turn into Israeli nightmare

Ten Nepali nationals were among those killed when Hamas fighters attacked southern Israel last Saturday.

Nepali nationals gathered at a farm in Kadesh Barnea in southern Israel, from where they travelled to Ben-Gurion Airport to fly back to Nepal on October 12, 2023 [Samik Kharel/Al Jazeera]
Nepali nationals gathered at a farm in Kadesh Barnea in southern Israel, from where they travelled to Ben Gurion Airport to fly back to Nepal on October 12, 2023 [Suraj Bhandari/Al Jazeera]

Kathmandu, Nepal – Prabesh Bhandari’s dream seemed within reach at the age of 24. He wanted to save money to build a house for his family in Salyan district, Nepal. And he had been invited to join a competitive cohort of aspiring agriculture professionals in Israel.

He had calculated that after room and board, he would save close to 1.1 million Nepalese rupees (around $8,275) after a year in Israel. But the unprecedented October 7 attack by the Palestinian armed group Hamas in southern Israel near the Gaza Strip meant that death came to him before his first salary.

“It had been less than a month since he had travelled to Israel and just over three weeks since he had started his work,” his aunt Sobha Sejwal told Al Jazeera over the phone.

His relatives say Prabesh left for Israel on September 12 and four days later, was assigned his first task  – to pluck and harvest pomelo. On the eve of his death, his parents were waiting in his aunt’s house to talk to him, but he was unavailable and later messaged Sejwal: “I am too tired, I came home and did my chores and I dozed off.”

On October 7, he and nine other Nepali trainees in the batch of 17 working in the same farm, were dead. Four others were injured and one is still missing. It wasn’t until the day after that Prabesh’s family heard the news of the attack on the radio. Then, a friend of Prabesh’s from Israel called to tell them that he had been killed in the attack.

Sejwal remembers Prabesh as calm, disciplined, and determined.

“He was always the first in his class,” she told Al Jazeera. “He said he would own a big farm someday and employ all of us.”

Around 4,500 Nepalis reside in Israel as caregivers under nursing duties and around 265 students are pursuing a range of education programmes.

The Nepal Embassy in Tel Aviv has confirmed that 55 Nepali students working on a farm along the Israel-Gaza border have been rescued. Another 72 Nepali students have also been relocated away from the border. Those injured in the attack are being treated even as search operations are ongoing for the missing student.

‘His only bad decision was going to Israel’

Rajesh Kumar Swarnakar also didn’t survive the Hamas attack. The 25-year-old from the country’s southern Sunsari district that borders India was a student of agriculture with plans to join Nepal’s civil service after completing his training in Israel.

His eldest sibling Mukesh Swarnakar had texted him on Friday, asking him for travel tips ahead of a trip to the country’s west. “He was busy so we planned to call on Saturday,” Mukesh told Al Jazeera. “I never heard from him again.”

Mukesh describes his brother as smart.

“The only bad decision he made was going to Israel,” he said. “He should have known it’s not safe, there were bunkers and there was conflict.”

In the western Doti district, the devastated parents of Rajan Phulara, 24, who was also killed in the attack, wanted to jump into a nearby river to drown, Rajan’s cousin Hemraj said. Rajan was their only son.

“The villagers spotted them and forcefully brought them back home,” said Hemraj. Rajan’s father had amassed a heavy debt to educate his son, in the hopes that he would help lift the family from poverty and indebtedness.

“Before he left for Israel, he told me all their problems would be over soon,” said Hemraj.

Rajan talked to his parents regularly and was scheduled to have a video call with them on Saturday. The call never happened.

‘I want to see his body’

The deaths in Israel have sparked an outcry across Nepal. Many still in Israel are desperate to get back home.

On Thursday evening, Suraj Bhandari and 76 other Nepalese nationals who work at a farm in Kadesh Barnea in southern Israel were at Ben Gurion Airport, waiting to board an emergency flight to Kathmandu, organised by Nepal’s government.

“We have now safely arrived at the airport and are now ready to depart home,” he told Al Jazeera.

Meanwhile, the victims’ families have also been waiting for the bodies of the deceased to be brought back to Nepal.

“I have already lost my brother, at least I want to see his body,” said Mukesh.

Source: Al Jazeera