A caregiver from Kerala among the victims of Hamas rockets in Ashkelon
by Giorgio Bernardelli

Soumya Santosh, 30, was caring for an elderly Jewish woman who was also killed. Some 12,000 Indians work in Israel. For Father Nahra (Vicariate for Migrants), “it is always the poor who suffer the most in any war.”

Tel Aviv (AsiaNews) – A 30-year-old woman from Kerala was on a video call yesterday afternoon with her husband in India when one of the rockets fired by Hamas hit the flat where she worked as a caregiver attending to an elderly Jewish woman in the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Soumya Santosh died, killed instantly by the blast, in a war in which she found herself involved only for seeking a decent job in a distant country. She came to Israel seven years ago from her village in Idukki district, where she left her husband and son, who is now nine.

Her situation is not unique. Many foreign caregivers and housekeepers work in the homes of elderly Israelis. About 12,000 Indians work in the country.

Working conditions are tough. The residency permit is tied to work. If a person cared for dies, the caregiver has only a few weeks to find another job; otherwise, they become illegal and risk expulsion.

Soumya Santosh worked for an 80-year-old Jewish woman. Probably, in order to remain close to her, she didn't run to a safer place when the alarm sirens rang out.

Her husband in India – with whom she was speaking on video call – heard a roar that interrupted the communication. Soumya Santosh was killed instantly; her elderly charge was taken to the hospital but died from her injuries.

“She was Hindu but was married to a Christian. For this reason in our Indian chaplaincy some knew her, even if she did not participate in the activities,” said Father Rafic Nahra, vicar for migrants and asylum seekers for the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem, speaking to AsiaNews.

The Vicariate for Migrants is one of the few points of reference for Israel’s Indian community, many of whom hail from Kerala.

Masses in Malayalam are celebrated in the shrines of the Holy Land but also in specially rented rooms in modern Israeli cities where there are no churches. This is the case for Ashkelon, where a Mass is held every third Friday of the month.

For Fr Nahra, “Soumya Santosh’s death confirms that it is always the poor who suffer the most in any war. These people, who come from distant countries in search of a better life for themselves and their families, often show great loyalty to the elderly entrusted to them.

“They don't flee, because they love them. And, as is the case for them, even in many other situations, the poor have nowhere to go to take refuge when rockets rain down from the sky.”

There is also bitterness about what is happening between Gaza and Israel. “There is so much anger right now, so much violence,” notes Father Nahra. “Young Arabs are on the streets to prove that they are not second-class citizens in this country. But this violence will get them nowhere.”