At least 60 to 65 people were killed in ethnic clashes in the northeastern state of Manipur after violence had broken out on May 3 during a tribal solidarity rally organized by the All Tribal Student Union Manipur (ATSUM) in Churachandpur, about 65 km from Imphal, in protest against the demand of the non-tribal Meitei community to be given Scheduled Tribe (ST) status.
According to reports, the rally ended peacefully but things went out of control when a portion of the Anglo-Kuki War Centenary gate at Churachandpur was reportedly set on fire by some miscreants. The Kukis account for the largest part of Manipur’s tribal population. Several commentators have described the violence as a clash between the Meiteis and Kukis.
In this context, a video showing a group of men in Military uniform carrying firearms is being shared widely. They are saying something in the Meitei language.
D-Intent Data, which describes itself as a ‘propaganda and fake news detection centre’, tweeted a thread on the Manipur violence. One of the tweets contained the above video. The tweet said, “Illegal migrant Kukis from Myanmar have joined militant groups in Manipur and are now openly brandishing high-tech weapons and targeting the Meitei community. Their videos can be found on social media.” (Archive)
Illegal migrant Kukis from Myanmar have joined militant groups in Manipur and are now openly brandishing high-tech weapons and targeting the Meitei community. Their videos can be found on social media.#ManipurViolence(11/15) pic.twitter.com/poTPa7Ozc2
— D-Intent Data (@dintentdata) May 6, 2023
While watching the video closely, we noted that the men had an insignia on their uniforms. It can be clearly seen several times in the video. See the screenshot here:
To the naked eye, this looked like the emblem of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). To confirm this, we looked up pictures of the IDF uniform. Below is a side-by-side comparison of an IDF uniform procured from the website https://israelmilitary.com/ and an IDF emblem with the uniform worn by the men in the viral video.
The readers can see that the IDF emblem, ‘Tzahal’ (the Hebrew-language acronym for The Army of Defense for Israel), is written on the chest in the uniform. The Army of Defense for Israel or the IDF is Israel’s national military.
We also noted that at least three of the soldiers were carrying an olive green water bottle tagged to their belts. In a website that makes branded body armor and military products made in Israel available to civilians around the world, we found the same water bottle. The description says this is the standard flask issued to IDF men (IDF standard issue 1 liter canteen specially made to fit IDF vests). See comparison below:
Next, we contacted a Meitei language speaker to understand what the men in uniform were saying in the video. We made a transcript, but we are withholding it since it is full of expletives. To put it simply, the men are cursing a certain ‘Biren’ asking him what he was doing in their motherland. They are threatening him with physical assault. Biren here possibly refers to Manipur chief minister N Biren Singh.
Bnei Menashe: The Tribe that Connects Israel to Northeast India
To understand the connection between Meitei language and Israeli Defence Force soldiers, we performed a keyword search on Google and came across reports about Bnei Menashe community from northeast India joining the IDF.
The Bnei Menashe (literally, sons of Manasseh; Menasseh, according to the Book of Genesis, being the first son of Joseph) consider themselves descendants from one of the 10 lost tribes of Israel, who were exiled by the Assyrian Empire about 3000 years ago. Their ancestors crossed central Asia and settled in northeastern India along the border with Myanmar and Bangladesh. Over the centuries, the Bnei Menashe have been practising Judaism following the footstep of their forefathers, “and they continued to nourish the dream of one day returning to the land of their ancestors, the Land of Israel.”
According to a report by journalist Rajeev Bhattacharyya who has covered the northeast for decades, around 7,000 Bnei Menashe members “remain in India’s Northeast, awaiting the chance to return to their ancestral land… The community comprises members from the Mizo, Kuki, and Chin ethnic groups of Mizoram and Manipur, who speak Tibeto-Burman languages.”
Alt News Reaches out to Bnei Menashe
To confirm further, Alt News reached out to the Bnei Menashe community in Israel. An Indian emigrant who is to join the IDF soon said on the condition of anonymity, “These men are recent recruits in the Israel military. They are between 18 and 21 years of age. They came to Israel in December 2020 and are residents of the northern town of Nof HaGalil. At the moment, they are undergoing basic training in IDF. The video is shot at their base.”
On a related note, multiple news outlets reported that at least one member of the Bnei Menashe community was killed in last week’s violence and one or two synagogues were burnt down. Among them are The Times of Israel, The Jerusalem Post and Nagaland Tribune.
To sum up, a video of IDF soldiers from the Bnei Menashe community is falsely viral as illegally migrated Kuki militants from Myanmar in Manipur. Though Alt News could not individually identify the men in the video, it is certain from their uniform and available reports that they are soldiers with the Israeli Defence Forces. A source from Israel, who belongs to the same community, identified the men as residents of Nof HaGalil, and confirmed that the video was shot at the IDF base where these soldiers were stationed.
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