Jewish, Israeli expats feel new trepidation

With segments of central Bangkok declared “live fire zones” by the Thai military, entire neighborhoods have become potential deathtraps.

BANGKOK – For Jan Polatschek, life in Bangkok suddenly doesn’t seem so charmed anymore.
“My window faces in the direction of the demonstration [site] and at night I can hear gunfire and explosions,” says the Jewish expat, who makes his home in a city that had long been seen as a hospitable haven for foreigners.
“It’s disturbing,” adds the retired hospitality professional from New York, who lives within walking distance of the fortified encampment in Bangkok’s ritzy commercial district that has been occupied by thousands of anti-government protesters for over a month. “I feel trepidation whenever I leave my apartment.”
With segments of central Bangkok declared “live fire zones” by the Thai military and sharpshooters positioned on rooftops, entire neighborhoods have become potential deathtraps for pedestrians venturing onto deserted streets. The civilian death and casualty tolls are steadily mounting.
Yet some seasoned members of Bangkok’s several hundred-strong Israeli expat community are taking the escalating violence in their stride.
“In my experience, if you stay clear of trouble spots, you’re safe,” says Shali Zevuloni, a prominent Israeli gemstone dealer who lives near another flashpoint where street battles continue to rage. “In Israel violence from terrorism is random; it can strike anywhere,” he adds.
In his three decades in Thailand, Zevuloni says he has been through several similar flare-ups of violence, such as during “Black May” in 1992 when a three-day rampage by the country’s military government left hundreds of demonstrators dead or missing.
“This is Thailand, things will blow over,” Zevuloni opines. “But in the meantime don’t go around gawking [at street battles].”
Just to be on the safe side, though, Polatschek has packed several small bags with essentials and is following developments closely. “I’m prepared for emergencies,” he says. “If things get out of hand, I’m ready to leave on a moment’s notice.”