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Israel waiting game

A common refrain among overseas Filipino workers (OFW) trapped in the violence in Lebanon in 2019 and Syria in 2013 was that they’d rather die from bullets and bombs than from hunger back home.

Such was not empty rhetoric as many of those OFW shunned an opportunity to be repatriated at no expense to them after the highest alert levels were raised by the Philippine government in those strife-torn Middle East nations.

The same can be expected from the OFW in Israel, even at the flashpoint West Bank and Gaza areas, especially with the Israel Defense Force’s vaunted Iron Dome system in place.

The Iron Dome’s efficiency in shooting nine out of 10 rockets fired by groups linked to Hamas has once again put at the world’s centerstage Israel’s military prowess, notwithstanding the expected casualties on the ground.

With the Hebrews’ famed victory during their many wars against Arab nations like in the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel is one country that has shown since biblical times that it can take care of itself.

It singlehandedly beat back the combined military might of Jordan, Syria and Egypt 54 years ago, and then again defeated an Arab coalition led by Egypt and Syria in 1973 in the deadly Yom Kippur War.

Those two and all the other Israeli-Arab wars have allowed Israel to expand its territories, the so-called “Promised Land” given by the Hebrew God to Abraham, the basis of the “land grab” perpetrated by Moses when he led the Israelis out of Egypt.

The problem of Israel is that in carving out territories, it has to deal with the naturally hostile Arab inhabitants that would not leave their land, aside from always having to watch its borders being surrounded by Arab countries it had fought wars against.

An Israeli-Hamas ceasefire over the weekend brokered by Egypt was holding as of this writing, a development that should be most welcome for the OFW whose deployment to Israel had been suspended temporarily by the Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE).

It can be said that the DoLE has already perfected handling similar OFW crises that for Israel, it has not imposed a ban on sending workers there, but only abeyance of flights by OFW in the meantime.

When things have sufficiently calmed down, Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello III said OFW deployment to Israel will resume soonest. In fact, the processing of work documents for Filipinos planning to work in Israel has not been put on hold, Bello said.

There are about 30,000 Filipinos in Israel and 91 in Gaza. The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had placed Israel and West Bank under Alert Level 1 and Gaza under Alert Level 2.

Before the ceasefire, 228 had been killed in Palestine and 12 in Israel in repeated rocket attacks from both sides.

While the DFA and DoLE, with the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration, have readied an evacuation plan for Filipinos in Israel, there may be no need for one if the ceasefire holds.

But if fighting erupts anew, as in the case of OFW in Lebanon and Syria, some OFW may risk staying in Israel because they have families to feed back home in the Philippines.

In what may be a sign that government experts on Middle East affairs are ultimately seeing a de-escalation of the Israel-Hamas conflict, 400 Filipino household workers will be allowed to travel to Israel this month under a government-to-government agreement.

According to the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, their employers had assured that they will not be made to work in conflict areas.

The deployment of the 400 workers tells us that the situation in Israel has yet to reach a critical point because if it has, that government-to-government deal would have also been scuttled.

In appeasing those whose flights to Israel were postponed, Bello said the government is just asking for a “few days of delay” because “we just want to be sure they will be safe.”

A reasonable request, if we may say so. “Once the bombings stop and if the DFA says it’s okay, then we will always consider deploying them,” Bello said.

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