Israel-Gaza: The man held with the hostages Israel mistakenly killed

Mr Wichian, seen here with his wife, at a temple
Image caption,Like many from Thailand’s poor north-east, Wichian Temthong left for Israel to find better-paid work

“Am I lucky or unlucky?” Wichian Temthong pondered the question. “I guess I’m lucky, because I’m still here, still alive.”

The 37-year-old farm worker is one of 23 Thai hostages who were released by Hamas last month. Now Wichian is back in Thailand, living in a small room in an industrial suburb south of Bangkok with his wife Malai.

While he survived, three young Israeli men he met in captivity did not. They were mistakenly shot dead by Israeli soldiers.

Wichian had gone to Israel only in late September, driven like so many Thais from the poor north-east of the country to find better-paid work on Israeli farms. After nine days he was moved to an avocado orchard on the Kfar Aza kibbutz. He woke up on 7 October, his first morning there, to the sound of gunfire.

His fellow Thai workers assured him it was normal. But as the shooting got louder towards midday, they decided to lock themselves in one of the buildings. Before they could do that gunmen burst in, one holding a hand grenade. They started beating the Thais with their rifle butts.

“I crouched down like this and shouted ‘Thailand, Thailand, Thailand’, he said, showing how he pulled his arms over his head. “But they kept beating me. All I could do was keep my face down. One guy stamped on me with his feet. I crawled under the bed to hide. I tried to text my wife to say I was being taken, but they dragged me out by my leg.”

Wichian was eventually taken down into tunnels deep under Gaza, and would be kept there for 51 days. His was a lonely ordeal, because he was the only Thai, and he speaks no English, so could only communicate through drawings and hand gestures.

Conditions were grim. The hostages were fed just once a day; sometimes this was no more than a piece of bread and a dried date.

“When I was distressed they would come and talk to me, to calm me down, but I could not understand them. The only way I got by was by thinking of the faces of my children, my wife and my mother.

“When there was nothing else to do, I’d just sit against the wall and meditate. I kept thinking about the same thing over and over, which was that I had to survive.”

He remembers the other hostages who were with him in the tunnels; three young Israeli men – Yotam, Sammy and Alon – who remained in captivity after his release, only to be shot dead by nervous Israeli soldiers as they came out, waving a white cloth, last Friday.

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