The Bnei Menashe community in northeastern India is caught up in a civil war between the local Meitei and Kuki tribes. In recent days 180 family homes were set on fire in Imphal, the capital of the state of Manipur, and in the nearby village of Beit Shalom. During the confrontations, members of India's Meitei tribe shot firearms and killed Yoel Beita, a father of four from the Bnei Menashe community.
Four more people from the Bnei Menashe were injured as a result of the shooting. "We are begging and asking the Israeli government to bring us now to our country, to Israel," said Samuel Suantak from Manipur.
The Bnei Menashe, who are identified with the Kuki tribe, consider themselves to be the descendants of the biblical Menashe, the son of Joseph, called in their language Mansia or Menamsi. Since they identify themselves with one of the tribes of Israel, they believe that they are an inseparable part of the Jewish people, and have preserved various customs, most centered around the Jewish holidays. There are about 5,400 Bnei Menashe in the Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur who are waiting to immigrate to Israel.
In Imphal alone, members of the Meitei tribe set fire to 120 houses of families from the Bnei Menashe, as well as their cars. In the nearby village, the members of the tribe set fire to 60 more homes, and also set fire to the local synagogue and mikvah. Torah scrolls in the building were burned, according to the community. In the recent riots, a total of 17 people were killed, including one from the Bnei Menashe community.
Following the riots, the Bnei Menashe fled to the forests. At least 10 are missing; contact with them has been lost.
"There is complete anarchy in this place," said Tzvi Khaute, community coordinator for the Bnei Menashe in Israel and India for the Shavei Israel organization.
"The Bnei Menashe fled and are afraid to return to their neighborhood. The Indian authorities sent military forces to restore order," Khaute said. "The problem is that the Bnei Menashe are between a rock and a hard place. The state of Manipur is under the control of the Meitei tribe, who say that the Bnei Menashe belong to Israel. 'This is not your place, go to Israel,' they say. I beg the State of Israel to take responsibility and get them out as soon as possible. Their lives are in danger."
Lawmaker Pnina Tamano-Shata, chairman of the lobby for the Bnei Menashe in the Knesset, says that "the situation and the pictures that have reached us from the community of the Bnei Menashe in India are very worrying. I am in contact with the representatives of the community in Israel and I have appealed to Minister of Absorption Ofir Sofer, the Prime Minister's Office and the Jewish Agency so that they do everything in order to help and immediately rescue the sons and daughters of the community."
"Our duty is to take care of the security of all the Jewish communities in the world, and I expect swift action by the government," Tamano-Shata added. "Unfortunately, a synagogue and the mikvah of the community were completely burned down, and the father of the children was murdered, and dozens of homes of the community members were burned down. This is an emergency situation, and the government must act immediately and rescue the community members."
"The area in northeastern 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 of their lives," said Michael Freund, chairman and founder of Shavei Israel, that has been working for the Aliyah of the Bnei Menashe for over 20 years. "People have already tragically lost their lives in the last day and others have been seriously injured. Synagogues and Torah books were burned. In India there are a total of about 5,000 Bnei Menashe who have been wishing for years to immigrate to Israel. I call on the Israeli government to make the necessary decision and bring them to Israel now in an emergency operation, before many more are killed."
Senior officials of the Israeli government told Ynet: "We are following the events in northeastern India. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in contact with the necessary people. It is important to emphasize that this is not an antisemitic incident. We need a lot of sensitivity in handling this matter and it should not be painted in antisemitic colors, because it could harm them later on. We are in contact with the heads of the Bnei Menashe communities in Acco, in Nof HaGalil and in Kiryat Arba."