Touching the side of his neck gingerly, 30-year-old Withawat Kunwong reveals a jagged network of scars he received after being attacked at a poultry farm where he had been working in southern Israel.
The wound, Kunwong says, is a painful reminder of the fear and trauma he endured on October 7 when thousands of Hamas fighters broke through Israel’s border defenses in an unprecedented surprise attack.
The farm he had been working on was located in the Holit kibbutz, an agrarian community near the Gaza Strip. He was livestreaming from the farm when loud explosions were heard and thick black plumes of smoke rose into the air as rockets flew overheard.
He recalled hiding for hours that day but was discovered by a man he recalled as being a Palestinian dressed in civilian clothes who tried to cut his throat with a kitchen knife, after he “refused to surrender”. A savage fight ensued.
After the violent struggle with his attacker, Kunwong was left for dead, heavily bleeding from the wound in his throat. He was eventually found and cared for by other migrant workers. He managed to survive, he believes, because the knife had been blunt and broken.
“He couldn’t finish the job,” he told CNN. “This injury still hurts but I feel the hurt inside more,” he added.
His story is a tragic illustration of the human toll of the ongoing war that has claimed thousands of lives in both Israel and Gaza and displaced more than a million people in the Hamas-controlled territory.
Hamas has described its brutal attack as an assault on Israel. But so many of those murdered and kidnapped by the militant group’s fighters were also foreign nationals.
According to an estimate released by the Israeli Government Press Office last week, 135 hostages holding foreign passports from 25 different countries are being held in the Gaza Strip.
Among many of the foreign nationals killed and kidnapped are migrant laborers like Kunwong from Asian countries such as Thailand, Nepal and the Philippines – many who were working in Israel’s southern district near the Gaza strip, and unprotected, when Hamas militants came.
Thailand, for decades, has been one of Israel’s biggest sources of migrant labor.
At least 32 Thais have been killed in the conflict to date, one of the highest death tolls for foreign nationals, according to figures released by the Thai government.
“No worker – Israeli or Thai – should be used as cannon fodder,” said Yahel Kurlander, an academic from Tel-Hai College in northern Israel who has been focusing her research on labor issues in Israel’s agriculture industry.
Working with aid groups on the ground, Kurlander said that while the majority of Thai workers left in Israel are “totally safe”, supporting their families back home remained a key priority. And they feel pressured on two sides.
“The Thai government is asking them to evacuate and leave Israel but there is also pressure is from the Israeli side, telling them: ‘We need you, stay, we’ll give you extra money for that,” Kurlander said, adding that they deserved compensation.