Many may be surprised that the third civilian in Israel to lose his life to rocket fire during Operation Protective Edge was not Israeli or Jewish, but a Thai man. Narakon Kittiyangkul was a 36-year-old man from Thailand who came to Israel as foreign worker.
Israel employs over 20,000 foreign workers in agriculture, according to a report by PIBA, Israel’s Population, Immigration, and Borders Authority. The vast majority of agricultural workers are Thai. Israel has a bilateral labor agreement with Thailand, which regulates and encourages labor migration.
It is a difficult choice to leave what you know and love to go across the world to an unfamiliar land. Foreign workers come here for some of the same reasons that our soldiers go to war, to protect their families. Workers travel long distances and live far away from those they care about in order to provide for them.
There are thousands of agricultural workers in Southern Israel near the border with Gaza. In these areas there is little time to run for protection during a siren. Workers are especially exposed, as they are usually in the fields far away from any shelter. Sadly, it seems like it was only a matter of time before a worker was hurt or killed by a rocket or shrapnel. Kav LaOved is a workers’ rights organization. On their Facebook page “Friends of Kav LaOved – Worker’s Hotline” is a tragic foreshadowing of the events. The last post made before Kittiyangkul died was an attempt to enlighten the world to the reality workers near the border face during these tough times. They shared a post from their Thai language workers page explaining the “lack of secure places” available to workers and the fear workers have in such conditions. It was accompanied by the original post, a picture of two workers and in Thai: “Today, I must go to work with Buddha who will protect me.” The following post three days later was an article about Kittiyangkul’s death.
Unlike the caregivers who watch over our loved ones or the restaurant workers who clean up after us, most Israelis have little to no contact with agricultural workers. We see them only in passing, never even seeing their faces, which are usually covered by fabric to keep out dust and dirt. It is easy to forget about these individuals as we separate the food on our plate from where it came from.
Agricultural workers assist in feeding Israel. I thank them for what they do and mourn for the man who lost his life doing so, Narakon Kittiyangkul, age 36. May his memory be a blessing.