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'He Knew the Dangers, but He Went for Us...': Kin of Kerala Man Killed in Israel

Pat Nibin Maxwell was killed in a missile strike near an orchard in north Israel's Margaliot on Monday, 4 March.

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"Nibin moved to Israel for work in mid-December [2023]. Of course, he knew the dangers, but he did it because things were difficult at home," said Ammu, a native of Kerala's Kollam, merely days after she learnt that her brother-in-law, 31-year-old Pat Nibin Maxwell, was killed in a missile strike near an orchard in north Israel's Margaliot on Monday, 4 March. 

Nibin worked as an agricultural labourer on a farm near the Israel-Lebanon border. He is survived by his wife, who is seven months pregnant, and their five-year-old daughter.

Two others from Kerala's Idukki, Paul Melvin (28) and Bush Joseph George (31), were also injured in the attack, which was caused by an anti-tank missile allegedly fired by the Hezbollah faction in Lebanon. The injured are under treatment at a hospital in Israel. 

Ammu's husband and Nibin's elder brother Pat Nivin Maxwell had also gone to Israel a week before him in December 2023, albeit to a different part of the country. They had both applied for the agricultural visa offered by the Israeli government two months after it launched its war on Gaza.

Israel was looking to replace its Palestinian workforce and had turned to India for labour in the construction, caregiving, and agriculture sectors amid a severe labour crisis.

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Since October 2023, the Palestinian death toll from Israel's war on Gaza has crossed 30,000, as per reports. More than 25,000 of those killed are reportedly women and children.

'He Lost His Job During COVID...'

Nibin lived in Vaadi-Thagassery, a village in Kollam district, with his wife, daughter, parents, elder brother and his family. His younger brother is working in Abu Dhabi.

Speaking to The Quint over the phone, Ammu said her husband called her on Monday afternoon from Israel with the news of Nibin's injury in the missile strike. Later that night, the family got to know he passed away.

"Both Nibin and my husband were in the Gulf on a supply visa until a few years ago. But during COVID-19, both of them had to return home after they lost their jobs. They tried taking up odd jobs here, but it was not working out. That's when they decided to go abroad again."

While Nibin had studied till Class 12, Nivin has a degree in trade. 

"The brothers went to Israel because of financial issues at home… even though it is a dangerous place. They went there for their family. Nibin has one child, and there's another one coming. I don't even know how to describe this loss," she added.

Ammu said that Nibin's mother had to be hospitalised after the incident. "She has fallen sick since she heard the news and is in the hospital now. She has been inconsolable," she said.

She further told The Quint that her husband would bring Nibin's body back to Kerala on Saturday, 9 March, after completing the paperwork.

"We are deeply shocked and saddened by the death of one Indian national and the injury of two others due to a cowardly terror attack launched by Shia Terror organization Hezbollah, on peaceful agriculture workers who were cultivating an orchard at the northern village of Margaliot yesterday early afternoon," the Israel Embassy in India posted on X on 5 March.

Meanwhile, the Indian Embassy in Israel issued an advisory after the incident, stating: "In view of the prevailing security situation and local safety advisories, all Indian nationals in Israel, especially those working in or visiting border areas in the north and south, are advised to relocate to safe areas within Israel. The Embassy remains in touch with the Israeli authorities to ensure the safety of all our nationals."

Hezbollah has been launching rockets and missiles at Israel in support of Hamas since 8 October 2023, after Israel launched its war on Gaza.

Why Indian Workers Move to Israel

In November 2023, Israel began offering employment visas in the construction, healthcare, and agriculture sectors, and about 800 Indians had moved to the country by December 2023, The Indian Express quoted unnamed sources as saying.

On 9 November, the then Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said that a bilateral framework for caregivers, construction and agriculture workers between India and Israel is "a long-term initiative."

In May 2023, the two nations had inked an agreement to allow 42,000 Indian workers to work in Israel.

However, in a letter to the MEA on 15 January, the All India Trade Union Congress (AITUC) had argued that sending Indian citizens to a "war zone" is not justifiable, adding that this development is telling of "the complete failure in generating meaningful employment in the country."

The Quint had reported in January how unemployed Indian youth lined up in Haryana's Rohtak and Uttar Pradesh's Lucknow for a recruitment drive to join Israel's workforce.

"Ordinary people who are desperate with unemployment and poverty will pay a heavy price for Prime Minister Modi's apparent bonhomie with Israel."
AITUC had said

"Our first contention is that no protections are being promised to the workers being sent there, and the second one is that Indian workers will be replacing Palestinians in Israel. By doing this, will India not be party to the genocidal politics of Israel?" AITUC General Secretary Amarjeet Kaur had told The Quint then.

Usman Jawed, a specialist researcher and migrant worker rights advocate for FairSquare, a London-based non-profit organisation, had told The Quint that sending Indian workers to Israel would be in contravention to the country's foreign policy, which had, until then, sought a ceasefire.

"Israel's economy is ravaged because of the war. Contractors are in dire states. Now when internal pressure is mounting on Israel to stop the war, India is enabling it by providing workers," Jawed had said.

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