Grieving Thai family pleads for return of son’s body from Israel

October 11, 2023 - 6:26 PM
Noopar Pansa-ard, 63, prays for her son, Somkuan Pansa-ard, 39, a Thai labour who was killed in Israel in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, at a temple in Kalasin province, Thailand, October 11, 2023. (Reuters/Thomas Suen)

 The last time Thai mother Noopar Pansa-ard said she heard from her son, gunfire and explosions crackled in the background as he told her to stay strong if anything happened to him.

“I told him – don’t talk like that … My heart will shatter if you don’t return,” Noopar said.

A day later, her son Somkuan Pansa-ard, 39, was killed during an attack by Hamas militants on Israel, where he had gone to work in a fruit plantation to send money back to help his family repay a loan.

Co-workers told his family on Sunday he had been shot by Hamas militants. It was not clear where in Israel Somkuan had been killed.

“Losing my son … is the biggest loss in my life,” said his father Khraboan Pansa-ard, hunched over on a chair as Noopar sat nearby, clutching a portrait of their son and wiping away tears.

“I didn’t want my son to go because this country is at war. I feared he would lose his life,” said Khraboan. “But he wouldn’t listen.. He had to take care of the family to make them happy. He said that it paid well.”

Somkuan was one of the 30,000 Thais, mostly from the rural northeast, working in Israel’s agriculture sector, according to Thai government data.

So far, 20 Thai nationals have been killed and 14 taken hostage in the conflict, the Thai foreign ministry says. Some 5,000 Thais are looking to be repatriated home.

At Ban Song Waeng, Somkuan’s village in northeastern Thailand, families gathered outside his home to offer support to the grieving parents.

The next day, several relatives and friends accompanied his mother Noopar to the local temple to pray for her son.

“Its tradition, to come to temple when we grieve to find solace and bring offerings to spread merit to the spirit of my son,” she said, kneeling with clasped hands on the temple floor as monks chanted blessings.

“We would like his body back as soon as possible so we can hold religious rights, as is our tradition,” his father Khraboan added.

– Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng, Editing by Miral Fahmy