Accessibility links

Breaking News

Foreign Nationals Living in Israel Recount Hamas’ Surprise Attack

Passengers wait at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 7, 2023, as flights are canceled because of the Hamas surprise attack.
Passengers wait at Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 7, 2023, as flights are canceled because of the Hamas surprise attack.

Vivian Nomalanga Bhebhe said the day that Hamas launched its surprise attack on Israel was “a normal Saturday, just like any Shabbat” until people were awoken to sirens and the sounds of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system intercepting rockets.

“Before we realized it, rockets were raining all over. Only to discover that as rockets were being fired all the way from the border to places like Tel Aviv, where I live, already there were infiltrators … attacking residents on [the] ground.”

Bhebhe, a Zimbabwean household laborer working in Tel Aviv since 2017, is one of thousands of foreigners living in Israel who were caught up in the attack on the country.

She told VOA’s Zimbabwe Service that it took time for the Israeli Defense Forces to counter the assault.

“Why? Because I believe most of the time, when this happens, it's normally because Israel would have done something [on] that side [of the West Bank], like attack [Hamas militants].

She said in this instance “it looks like Israel did not do anything … so that's why they were caught unaware.”

On Monday, Israeli warplanes hit the Gaza Strip with repeated airstrikes, while the military said it mobilized an unprecedented number of reservists ahead of “going on the offensive.”

The death toll stood at 700 people in Israel and nearly 500 in Gaza around midday Monday, and the death toll is expected to climb. Thousands of people on both sides have been injured.

Bhebhe said she has not been going to work since the attack because everyone is being told to stay indoors. “The security forces are all over the place trying to locate” militants who could be hiding in Tel Aviv.

“It's going be a difficult week for all of us here because we don't know what we expect,” she said.

Sei Gin Mang, a Myanmar national living in Tel Aviv, said “as soon as the sirens went off, we heard the sound of rockets exploding in the air.”

Starting around 6:30 am on Saturday, there was the sound of continuous firing, he told VOA’s Burmese service.

Sei Gin Mang said in big cities, like Tel Aviv, “sometimes one or two militants enter and shoot” but said this the first time since he moved to Israel in 2019 that he has experienced an attack like this.

He estimates that around 300 Myanmar nationals live in Israel and said several of them work on a farm in Gaza. When the fighting began, those workers had to go into nearby bomb shelters and hide.

“When Hamas militants are entering the country and firing, [the workers] kept silent in their bunkers. They only have dry noodles and rice and bread,” he said.

The sirens continue to go off to warn people of danger. “The main thing is to listen carefully to the sirens. … After that, the people in the agricultural farms near the border should take shelter for a while in the bomb shelters,” Sei Gin Mang said.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs Monday urged its nationals who are in Israel to stay in their homes unless there is an urgent need.

Isolda Kirkhel, who has lived in Israel since 1981, also heard warning sirens at 6:30 in the morning.

"I thought I was in a dream, I didn't want to believe it," Kirkhel told VOA's Georgian service. "I got dressed, went downstairs, and there a neighbor told me that Hamas fighters invaded Israel, that they started killing people and killed everyone they met on the street. I woke up, I called my children, everyone was asleep and they heard from me what was happening."

Hostages Compel Governments to Stay Involved

Brenda Shaffer, a senior adviser for energy at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington and a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Global Energy Center in Washington told VOA’s Azerbaijani service that foreign nationals were among those captured by Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

She said that according to press reports, American, British and European citizens are among the captured in the Gaza Strip and said one of the young women who were mutilated and dragged around by Hamas militants is a German citizen.

Shaffer said the fact that foreign nationals are among the dead and captured means their countries’ governments must be closely involved in the conflict.

“Even if these governments wanted to turn away, they really can't. Their citizens are directly involved,” she said.

The U.S. State Department said that nine Americans were among those killed and that other U.S. citizens were unaccounted for.

The dead in Israel also included people from Britain, France, Nepal, Thailand and Ukraine, officials from those nations said.

President of the Korean Association in Jerusalem, Chae Wanbyung, told VOA’s Korean Service that to the best of his knowledge all Koreans in Israel are safe.

He said Koreans in Israel are accustomed to sirens and emergency situations, so they are staying calm.

The South Korean government estimates that there are approximately 570 Koreans living in Israel, with an additional 360 tourists currently visiting the country.

Major airlines have suspended or limited flights to Tel Aviv, saying they are waiting for an improvement in safety conditions.

Poland and Hungary were among countries that carried out evacuation flights from Israel on Monday.

Dilshad Aliyarli from VOA’s Azerbaijan Service and Gibbs Dube from VOA’s Zimbabwe Service contributed to this report, as did VOA’s Burmese Service and VOA’s Korean Service.

  • 16x9 Image

    VOA News

    The Voice of America provides news and information in more than 40 languages to an estimated weekly audience of over 326 million people. Stories with the VOA News byline are the work of multiple VOA journalists and may contain information from wire service reports.