'I'm the first Thai-Israeli to join IDF'

"Enlisting means that my life is beginning," said 19-year-old Paebon.

thai idf soldier 88 (photo credit: )
thai idf soldier 88
(photo credit: )
When Bondi Paebon was told that he was the first Thai son of foreign workers to join the army, he corrected his interviewer. "I'm the first Thai-Israeli to enter the army," he said Thursday, emphasizing his latter identity to Channel 1 ahead of his enlistment. Only in December did a handful of foreign workers' children receive status in Israel for the first time. Until now, they have had to watch from the sidelines as their classmates have gone through this rite of passage without them. For Israeli-born children like Paebon, entering the army can fulfill a life-long aspiration to join Israeli society. "Enlisting means that my life is beginning," said 19-year-old Paebon. Paebon has not yet received his official assignment, but as with many Israeli teenagers he hopes to enter a combat unit. With an army profile of 64 out of 97 possible points, though, it will be virtually impossible for him to get into such a position. Unlike other young Israelis, Paebon's father lives in Thailand. But his mother, who lives here, resembles many other moms in Israel who are sending their sons off to the IDF. "She's emotional, like any mother," Paebon said. His mother worked illegally in the country until her son received status over the winter. Now she can work lawfully as a temporary resident and eventually become a permanent resident. Her son received permanent residency in December and should become a citizen in a few years, after he has completed the army. The Hotline for Migrant Workers, which has long pushed for children of foreign workers to be given Israeli citizenship, welcomed the news that the first such child was entering the armed forces. But the organization had reservations about the system being used to confer such status. "The Hotline for Migrant Workers is pleased for any child and his family who receive permanent residence in Israel," said Yonatan Berman, a lawyer with the organization. "However, their future citizenship should not be made contingent on completing military service. The only consideration should be establishing that the child's center of life is in fact in Israel." He continued, "The current system grants permanent residence for the children alone, which compels the child to serve in the army, but it does not grant him other political rights." The Hotline is pushing for the government to give more children and their families the right to stay in Israel.