TEL AVIV, Israel – On Thursday afternoon, Marian Constantin was back at the cafe where he was sitting when two Palestinian suicide bombers blew themselves up a day before, killing three and wounding dozens. He escaped unharmed, but the attack did nothing to improve his black state of mind.
A foreign worker from Romania who has become illegal because his permit expired, he complained that he is being exploited by greedy businessmen. He works six days a week under grueling conditions, sometimes 13 hours a day, on construction sites in Israel.
But with all that, and now the bombing, it's worse back home, said Constantin, 33, from Bucharest, where he said he could expect unemployment, poverty and hunger.
The suicide bombing took place in an area of Tel Aviv frequented by some of Israel's 300,000 foreign workers, and it brought them into the spotlight — however briefly.
Israeli officials said two of the three dead were laborers from abroad: Adrian Andas, 30, from Romania, and a man from Asia whose name was not released Thursday. The third victim was an Israeli, police said.
In China, official media reported Friday that a man from southern China was killed in the bombing and that four other Chinese were hurt.
Many foreign workers live in the rundown neighborhood where the bombing took place, crowded into small rooms in dilapidated, steamy apartments.
Advocacy groups charge that many are exploited because they have run afoul of rules that tie each worker to a specific employer. If he quits for any reason, he becomes illegal. One group estimates that 65 percent of the foreign workers are illegal, including Constantin.
"We are currency, we are not human beings," he said. "If I die or not, it's a risk I have to take. If I am afraid, I will have to go back [to Romania], and then I will starve."
Sitting in the cafe with the signs of the bombing attack still around him, Constantin said, "God protected me. If I had been a little closer [to the bomber], I would have been dead."
In contrast, Paul Pasasteanu, 32, also from Bucharest, does fear for his life and wants to go home in September, even though he knows his prospects for when he returns are grim.
"It is better to work here than become involved in crime or drugs back home," he said. "But I miss home."
Stefan Ieseanu, 39, from Moldova, yearns to be reunited with his family. His wife works as a cleaner in Italy and his two children are with their grandparents.
"My heart is broken but there is nothing I can do. It is easier to survive missing home than to live at home with no money to survive," he said.
Constantin arrived in Israel one year and three months ago. Like many other Romanians, he came on a contract to do construction work, but the reality did not live up to the promises he was made.
"You are treated like dirt, you live in bad conditions," he said. "That's why we are pushed into working illegally."
He can also double his wages working illegally and now earns more than $1,000 a month, compared to the $80 average monthly salary in Romania, he said.
With that money he covers the living expenses of his retired mother and four brothers back home and has some left over to save.
Constantin lives in a room with 11 other Romanian men on the outskirts of Tel Aviv but said his fellow countrymen are not a close-knit community.
He described a life in a dangerous underworld inhabited by shady characters constantly on the run from the authorities.
"It's a very difficult existence. You have to be very cautious. It's a shame we can't be united," he said.
He is trying to understand why foreign workers would become a target for a suicide bombing.
"Maybe they don't like us either because we have a right to work and they don't," he said.
When Israel closed its borders to 125,000 Palestinian workers at the start of the current round of violence in September 2000, foreign laborers took their jobs. Some speculated that perhaps the bombers targeted them in retaliation.