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'Indians don't want to leave Israel'

October 12, 2023 15:39 IST
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'If this had happened anywhere else, Indians would have been desperate to leave. But not in Israel.'

IMAGE: A front view of Beni Naidu's The Om Indian store in Tel Aviv. All Photographs: Kind courtesy Beni Naidu

The Om Indian Store in Tel Aviv has remained open to customers despite the war.

"99 percent of the Indians here buy groceries from my store. Since grocery and medicine shops are part of essential services, customers are coming to buy provisions whenever there is a gap between the warning sirens," says Beni Naidu, a Jewish-Indian who moved to Israel from Mumbai in 1992 age 22.

Sirens are sounded in Israel to alert citizens before a rocket attack. Within seconds of the alarm, people rush to the bomb shelter room inside their homes or to the community shelters in the neighbourhood for safety.

Mr Naidu served in the Israeli army for a year in 1994. All Israeli citizens render compulsory service in the army for 32 months when they turn 18.

He served a shorter duration since he was already married by then.

His daughter and elder son have completed their army tenures. Paper work is in process for his younger son who is 17 to enlist in the army next year.

Remembering his army days, Mr Naidu says he learnt how to use a weapon, defensive techniques, deal with emergencies and did security duties on the watch tower etc.

His daughter served in the Israel army during the 2014 war on Gaza. "She also has served on the border during that time," Mr Naidu tells's Archana Masih over the telephone with pride, adding that the army experience transformed his children into confident young adults.

"My daughter can just sling a bag on her shoulder and travel the world alone. I have the confidence that she can handle any situation because of her army training."

IMAGE: Another view of The Om Indian store.

The Om Indian Store is the go-to place for Indians, Nepalis, Sri Lankans residents in Israel. Among the store's most sold products are Lal Qila, Dawat rice and Everest masala.

"We have enough stock and are expecting 2-3 containers next week. I am not sure if it will come as per schedule or get delayed. Let us see how the situation unfolds," he says over the phone from the store floor in Tel Aviv on Wednesday.

Though a Hamas missile caused some damage near the store, the situation in Tel Aviv is okay, he says, but it is really bad near the border.

"My home is around 25 minutes from the Gaza border. My family is fine, but some people I know who live near the border have suffered badly."

"I don't have words to describe what happened to them," he says in anguish.

"No country should go through this."

"It is no less than genocide. The Israeli people are angry. They cannot tolerate what has happened."

IMAGE: Packed shelves inside Mr Naidu's store.

It has been five days of the war and the frequency of the rocket attacks have come down. There is a 4-5 hour gap now between Hamas rocket attacks, he says.

The Israelis trust the Iron Dome missile defence system which destroys the rockets in the air, he says.

"When that happens, it is like seeing Diwali fireworks in the air."

"We trust the Iron Dome that it will protect us, but what is worrying is the Hamas infiltrators that have entered the country and the terror unleashed by them."

"No one had imagined this."

Talking about the conversations among the Indians he has encountered in the shop and in the larger Indian community, he says there is no panic among them.

IMAGE: Beni Naidu at the recent G20 Summit in New Delhi.

"If this had happened in any other country, Indians would have been desperate to leave. But not in Israel. Foreigners are not fleeing this country," says Mr Naidu.

He attributes this sentiment to the country's policies and to the ethos of the Israeli people.

"The Israelis are deeply affected, but are a very strong people."

"Indians, Nepalis, Sri Lankan, Philippians -- they know that this terrible thing has happened, but have full faith that they will be safe in this country," he says.

"This is the spirit of this country."

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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