The Indian army has intervened to quell violence between tribal and non-tribal groups in the northeastern state of Manipur, and the head of the Jewish Shavei (return) Israel organization, with thousands of Bnei Menashe members, has called on Israel to promote immediate aliyah.
Soldiers of the Indian Army held flag marches and evacuated thousands of civilians amid a dawn-to-dusk curfew, officials said on Thursday.
Violence between tribal and non-tribal groups
Violence erupted during a protest march on Tuesday by thousands of tribal people opposing a demand by a non-tribal group for the constitutionally defined status of an official tribe.
Bnei Menashe members claim they are descended from one of the Lost Tribes of Israel. “The area of Northeast India, where the Bnei Menashe community lives, is saturated with severe ethnic conflicts and the men and women of the community are in constant danger,” said Michael Freund, chairman of Shavei Israel, on Thursday.
He added that “some of them have already tragically lost their lives and others were seriously injured. In addition, synagogues and Torah scrolls were burned.” Freund, who has been working with the Bnei Menashe community for 20 years, added that “there are a total of about 5,000 Menashe people left in India who have been requesting to immigrate to Israel for many years.”
An additional 5,000 community members have already made aliyah in recent years. “I call on the Israeli government to make the necessary decision and bring them to Israel immediately in an emergency operation before many more are killed. This is the order of the hour,” he said.
Bnei Menashe in India consider themselves descendants of the Menashe tribe, one of the ten tribes that were expelled from the Land of Israel more than 2,700 years ago by the king of Assyria at the end of the First Temple period in the 8th century B.C. Upon arrival to Israel, members of the community begin a process of conversion to Judaism.
Indian army sources said troops and the paramilitary Assam Rifles evacuated more than 7,500 people of different communities through Wednesday night and Thursday, sheltering them in the troops’ camps and government premises.
An internal report by Shavei Israel, obtained by The Jerusalem Post, gives a glimpse into the tragic situation where 120 Bnei Menashe families were forced to abandon the area, including the synagogue, in the capital city of Manipur.
120 families in an army camp
The Indian Army helped them to reach a military camp; there are now 120 families with babies and old people in army camps with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.
In the village of Sazel, the houses of 60 families who fled into the forest at night were burned, as were a synagogue, including Torah scrolls and a mikveh.
This morning the Indian army rescued and took most of them to a military camp, though about 15 families are missing.
In the district of Zurzangpur, about 3,000 Bnei Menashe, were caught up in a firefight that killed close to 20 people, among them Yoel Bayta, the father of 4 children. There the Jews remained in their homes because the majority protected them.
In the last few hours, the government has equipped the Mayita tribe with weapons and they are on their way to the Zurzangpur district to carry out another killing spree.
Reuters contributed to this story.