(JR) — An Israeli woman with a Chinese mother viral on China’s internet after being captured by Hamas. Dozens of Southeast Asian workers hostage, missing and killed on Israeli kibbutzes. Calls in Taiwan to take lessons from Israel’s embrace of self-defense.
And, on Friday, an Israeli embassy employee attacked in Beijing, on a day when a Hamas leader called for global protests.
These are some of the many ways that Israel’s war against Hamas has reverberated across Asia in the week since it began with Hamas’ massacre of thousands of civilians in Israel last Saturday.
Here is a roundup of how Israel’s war with Gaza has spilled out into Asia and how communities there are responding to the conflict.
Israeli embassy employee stabbed in Beijing
The Israeli embassy in Beijing confirmed that one of its employees was attacked in the Chinese city on Friday. The person was later hospitalized, and the attack did not happen on the embassy’s grounds, according to the embassy.
Video circulating of the assault showed one man stab another before limping away. The incident occurred the same day that a Hamas leader called for a day of global action, igniting fears in Jewish and Israeli expatriate communities about potential violence.
Beijing’s Chaoyang police department later released a statement stating that the victim was a 50-year-old male family member of an Israeli embassy worker. According to the police report, the assailant, a 53-year-old man who worked in a small commodities business in Beijing but was not from China, was arrested. The case is under investigation, the statement said.
Foreign workers held hostage and killed
People with citizenship in dozens of countries were caught in the chaos of the Hamas attack. But people from Nepal and Thailand — who are part of Israel’s tens of thousands of migrant workers in the agricultural and care industries — were especially hard hit.
According to Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 20 Thai nationals have been reported dead. Another 13 are injured and 14 have been taken hostage by Hamas. A total of 30,000 Thai workers are living in Israel.
“I just want to appeal to Hamas to release the Thais — they have nothing to do with this. They only left Thailand to work to provide for their families,” Kanyarat Suriyasri, who believes her husband was kidnapped by Hamas, told Al Jazeera.
In addition, 10 Nepalese were killed in an attack on a kibbutz. One person from Cambodia and at least two from the Philippines were confirmed dead, with a third remaining missing. One of them, Angelyn Aguirre, has won tributes in Israel and in her native country for never abandoning her 70-year-old patient when Hamas terrorists invaded Kibbutz Kfar Aza.
Three Chinese nationals were also killed, with several wounded and two missing, according to a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson.
Fourteen Thai nationals were among those rescued late Monday after spending days in hiding on Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.
Chinese-born mother of woman abducted from nature party seeks aid from Beijing
One of the most searing videos from the day of the assault was a viral video published by Hamas on Telegram of Noa Argamani crying out to her boyfriend, Avinatan Or, as she is dragged away by her kidnappers on a motorcycle.
The Israeli embassy in China wrote across Chinese social media platforms that Argamani, who is half-Chinese, was born in Beijing, igniting widespread coverage in Chinese media. China has not commented publicly on her case, and her mother told the South China Morning Post Thursday that Noa was actually born in Israel.
Liora Argamani, who is originally from Wuhan but now lives in Beersheba, Israel, called on Chinese President Xi Jinping to help win her daughter’s release. But, she told the South China Morning Post, her daughter “is not Chinese, and the Chinese embassy has very good reasons to refuse. If it refuses, I will not object.”
Argamani was attending the Supernova music festival near Gaza’s border when she was taken by Hamas militants who crossed the Gazan border into Israel. A subsequent video shows her sitting on a couch and drinking from a water bottle, indicating that she had made it alive into Gaza.
At least 260 bodies were found at the site of the music festival in the days following the attack.
Argamani’s father, Ya’akov, told Israel’s Channel 12 News that he found out about his daughter’s kidnapping via the Telegram video. “I asked to see [the video] and then I saw that it was definitely her. She was so scared, so frightened. I always protected her, and at this very moment I couldn’t,” he said. “I pray that everyone will return.” The family marked Noa Argamini’s 26th birthday this week.
To date, none of the more than 150 hostages taken from Israel into Gaza have been released. Hamas has warned that it would kill one hostage each time Israel bombs a civilian target in Gaza without warning. Little is known about the status of the hostages, including Argamani.
On Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter, Argamani’s kidnapping was a trending topic. But many commenters attempted to distance themselves from Argamani. “What does it have to do with us?” read one top comment in response to a news story.
A viral show of solidarity at Tokyo’s Shibuya Station
Asian cities joined in the flood of displays of solidarity with Israel around the world this week. Taipei 101, a national landmark in Taiwan that was once the world’s tallest building, was one of a large number of significant buildings to be bathed in blue and white.
Also on Wednesday, hundreds of Jews and local Japanese gathered outside of Shibuya Station, one of the busiest train stations in the world, and together sang “Hatikvah,” Israel’s national anthem. A video showing the crowd, convened by the Israeli embassy there, singing a song of peace, “Oseh Shalom,” went viral online.
Chinese, Japanese responses may test ties with Israel
In public statements, China has stayed firm on its usual line, calling for a two-state solution and condemning violence against civilians on both sides while stopping short of naming Hamas or labeling its activity as terrorism.
Some Chinese scholars, as well as the nationalist party-backed media The Global Times, blamed the United States for escalating tensions in the Middle East. Throughout the week, China’s special envoy to the Middle East has spoken with leaders from Egypt, Palestine, and Israel in efforts to reach an immediate ceasefire.
China has maintained a close relationship with Palestinian organizations since the Cold War era, though after recognizing Israel in 1992 cultivated an increasingly close economic relationship with the country.
Verbal support for Palestine and attempts to play the role of peacemaker between Israel and Palestine remain mainly symbolic as China attempts to expand its reach in the Middle East. Israel and the United States have expressed disappointment toward Beijing’s response.
“It’s not only that China and Israel have very vast trade relations in recent years. China and Israel really have grown closer together,” Ofir Dayan, a research assistant at Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies’ Israel-China Policy Center, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “China is our ally. When you see someone as an ally, this statement is extremely disappointing … to Israelis and to Israeli politicians who really believe in this relationship with China.”
Hamas’ attack was widely understood as an attempt to interfere with Israel’s ambitions to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia. The United States sought to advance those talks as China becomes an increasingly important player in the region, particularly after its participation in normalizing ties between Saudi Arabia and Iran and its desire to continue acting as a mediator in the region. The Saudis officially suspended talks with Israel on Friday.
Yuval Waks, Israel’s deputy chief of mission to China, told a Chinese reporter that bilateral relations between China and Israel remain strong but that he does not know whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned trip to China to meet with Xi this fall would still take place.
Meanwhile, Japan was the only G7 country that stopped short of supporting Israel’s “right to defend itself.” It condemned Hamas’ attacks but did not label them as “terrorism.” Japan recognizes both Israel and the Palestinian National Authority and advocates for a two-state solution. It also sends aid to Gaza.
At a press briefing on Saturday, Gilad Cohen, Israel’s ambassador to Japan, said Japan “should be vigilant and look at what Hamas is doing with the aid. Is it going really to the population?”
According to Reuters, Cohen showed a widely-circulated image of what he said was an Israeli woman kidnapped by Hamas and bound to sacks filled with aid sent to Gaza by Japan, though these claims have not been verified.
Facing threats across the strait, Taiwan wants to learn from Israel
Meanwhile, Israel is seeing Taiwan’s condemnation of Hamas in stark contrast to China’s statement. Many Taiwanese see similarities between Taiwan and the Jewish state — both as small democracies with vibrant tech sectors facing threats from neighbors.
As Taiwan faces growing threats from China — which claims Taiwan as its own and vows to unify it by force, if necessary — Taiwan has announced the establishment of a task force to draw lessons from Hamas’ surprise attack against Israel.
It’s not the first time Taiwan has sought to draw lessons from other wars around the world. The war in Ukraine advanced some military reforms; for example, extending compulsory service from four months to one year.
In May, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told Haaretz that Taiwan could learn a lot about defense from Israel and that he hopes the future might hold opportunities for deeper cooperation. This week, Taiwanese officials said they were taking specific lessons from the attack on Israel.
“The initial (lesson) is that intelligence work is very important,” said Taiwanese Defense Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng at a press briefing on Thursday, according to Reuters. “With intelligence, many countermeasures can be made. A war can even be avoided,”