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Last Updated: Friday, 12 August 2005, 07:26 GMT 08:26 UK
Israeli 'tribe' faces another move
By Richard Miron
BBC News, Gaza

Inside the Manipur synagogue
A Bnei Menashe synagogue back in Manipur, India
The Israeli government's pullout from Gaza is according to its timetable only days away.

The 8,000 Jewish settlers will, according to the government, be moved from their homes into Israel by force if necessary.

But among the settlers are a highly unusual group of approximately 250 people, originally from north-east India, who call themselves the Bnei Menashe.

They converted to Judaism believing themselves to be descendants of one of the ancient lost tribes of Israel - and moved to Jewish settlements in Gaza and the West Bank.

They now face another move and an uncertain future.


One of the Bnei Menashe is Joshua Benjamin.

The people who know you over here in this place, they have a good hospitality towards you
Joshua Benjamin

With his skull-cap and the ritual tassels on his belt worn by orthodox Jews, he appears like many others in the religious settlement where he lives in Gaza.

He shows off pictures of his life in Israel - holidays with children and festivals with friends. But his story is different from most here.

Mr Benjamin has come a long way from his original home in Manipur, an area in north-east India, close to the border with Burma.

"I do believe that I am the descendant of the lost tribe of Bnei Menashe. On top of that, even if we were not that, I had gone under true conversion and with this conversion, I am a Jew."

Preparing to leave Gaza
Occupants of Gaza pack up in preparation of leaving

The conversion was 10 years ago and Mr Benjamin came to Israel with hundreds of other Bnei Menashe.

He believes that despite his Asian features, his roots lie with the Jewish people.

Mr Benjamin says at first the differences made them feel a little awkward.

"But then when you start living here about three or four years and studying Judaism and live a Jewish life, you feel as you always belongs here and the people who know you over here in this place, they have a good hospitality towards you."

The Bnei Menashe are close-knit; sharing a common experience and a common language, Mizo.

The head of the 1,000-strong community in Israel - some live in Gaza, the rest in the West Bank - is Yoel Ilan.

Mr Ilan says they feel particularly at home in these areas, where the people have "looked after us with warmth and have helped us with everything we have needed".

Testing time

Now the prospect of moving from Gaza is casting a long shadow.

[The Bnei] say to me, you have parents and family here. You have somewhere to stay. We don't
Liana Hirschtick,
community worker in Gaza

Liana Hirschtick, who has worked for years assisting the community in Gaza, says the move will affect the Bnei Menashe harder.

"Their situation affects them much more. They came here and integrated and underwent a process that wasn't easy and now, they are being taken to another place and they face the same thing again.

"They say to me, you have parents and family here. You have somewhere to stay. We don't."

Joshua Benjamin is getting on with his routine as normal - going to work in a printing shop as he waits for the disengagement to take place.

"I grew up living as a Jew and I had my conversion in Israel when I came here," he says.

"This Israel is my home and it will be my home forever."

The Bnei Menashe in Gaza say this is a testing time but they say it will draw them closer to their faith and their roots.

Rabbi backs India's 'lost Jews'
01 Apr 05 |  South Asia
India's 'lost Jews' wait in hope
18 Aug 04 |  South Asia
Mizo 'Jews' seek Israel visas
23 Dec 03 |  South Asia
Israel to expand settlement
02 Oct 03 |  Middle East
Q&A: India's violent north-east
21 Nov 03 |  South Asia


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