Lost in the blizzard of news in the global media on Israel’s military response to Hamas is the story of Kukis who serve in the Israel Defence Force (IDF).
‘Leave Gaza in 24 Hours’: IDF Issues Ultimatum as Israel Prepares for Final Attack on Hamas
The 206 Kukis, part of the 3,60,000 reservists Israel has mobilised, have roots in Manipur and Mizoram. These Kukis, and around 5,000 members of this community, are in Israel because they emigrated under the country’s open-door policy to members of what Tel Aviv recognises as a ‘lost Jewish tribe’.
And as it happens, this small community was in the direct line of fire when Hamas terrorists entered Israel. Most of the Kukis live in Sderot, a town close to Gaza, and which encountered some of the worst violence. There were no casualties, but one family’s house was burnt down.
Bnei Menashe, the Hebrew name for this community, translates to children of Manasseh. Per Shavei Israel, an NGO that helps “lost tribe” Jewish communities emigrate to Israel, Menashe was the first son of Joseph, revered in Jewish faith as the first prophet.
As Shavei Israel tells the story, the Bnei Menashe claim descent from one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrian Empire more than 27 centuries ago and “their ancestors wandered through Central Asia and the Far East for centuries, before settling in what is now northeastern India, along the border with Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh”.
The chairman of Bnei Menashe Council, India, Lalam Hangshing, told TOI that there are around 5,000 of his community in India, 4,000 in Manipur and 1,000 in Mizoram. The Manipur ethnic violence has displaced many Kukis of this community, Hangshing said.
These Kukis’ emigration to Israel has happened slowly, 5,000 have made the journey over 30 years, Hangshing said. But they have integrated well. “Dozens of our boys are regular soldiers in IDF,” he said. “The exact number is not put out by Israeli armed forces.”
“A few days back I received a list of 206 boys from our community who have been called for duty, joining those who are already in the IDF,” Hangshing said. He makes it a point to add, “many of the boys in IDF have received commendations”.
Back in Manipur, Kukis who trace their roots to Israeli tribes suffered as much as others of the community. Hangshing and his family had to move to Delhi. Two synagogues in Imphal were burnt down just as violence erupted in early May.
In Israel, says Hangshing, the Kukis are ready for battle. An earlier Facebook post from Shavei Israel had said, “There are 188 members of the Bnei Menashe who love their country (Israel) and will do whatever it takes to protect her.” TOI could not independently establish if there are any overlaps between this list and Hangshing’s list of 206 IDF Kuki reservists.
In Aizawl, there have been prayer meetings for those killed in Israel and for IDF. “We are proud of our boys”, Hangshing said. Perhaps, no one in India will track IDF’s promised land offensive in Gaza more closely than the tiny community he speaks for.