A Little Piece of New Delhi in Haifa
27 September 2010 , 14:25
India's Ambassador Sarna speaking at the memorial ceremony. Photo: IDF Spokesperson
geresh
geresh
A large crowd of local Haifa residents, foreigners, and soldiers gathered in the British military cemetery in the city in order to pay their respects to Indian soldiers who were killed during World War I during the battle to conquer Haifa.. Photo:

This week a memorial ceremony honored the memory of Indian soldier who fell while fighting for Haifa in World War I.


Tamara Shavit

Memorial ceremonies, where people gather to honor the memory of soldiers who fell in battle, are a normal part of life in Israel. But on Wednesday (Sept. 22), a slightly different type of memorial ceremony was held in Haifa.

A large crowd of local Haifa residents, foreigners, and soldiers gathered in the British military cemetery in the city in order to pay their respects to Indian soldiers who were killed during World War I during the battle to conquer Haifa. A full rainbow of colors was seen in the different colored uniforms, berets and military decorations worn. Among those present were representatives from the Israeli Security System, Head of the Policy and Political Military Bureau of the Ministry of Defense, Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, and the Head of the IDF International Military Cooperation Department, Col. Chani Kaspi.

On September 23, 1918, a battle between the Turkish forces who ruled the region and the Birtish Empire forces which were mobilized by General Allenby for a battle which was named the Battle of Haifa. As opposed to the majority of British battles in the region, the main forces that fought this battle were not composed of soldiers from the British Empire, but of two Indian cavalier regiments of the Maharaja, the Indian royalty. These regiments fought not out of obligation, but by choice, and during the conquering of the city suffered the loss of one regiment commander and six soldiers, along with injuries caused to twenty eight soldiers. According to Yigal Greiber, a member of the Organization for the Preservation of Haifa History, it was one of the most impressive cavalier battles in history and perhaps the last one as well.

The Battle of Haifa has been engraved in Indias memory for ninety two years now. Every September, it is mentioned in ceremonies all over India. The idea for the ceremony in Haifa came about this past year, as an initiative by the Indian Embassy in Israel, municipality officials, and the Organization for the Preservation of Haifa History.

We owe a massive debt to those soldiers

As a way of correcting history, the delegation which made this event so special was that of Col. M.S. Johda, a high ranking official in the Indian General Staff. His delegation landed in Israel the day before in order to participate in the event. Col. Johda, who spent a decade in extensive research on the battle, is the grandson of Major Bahador Aman Singh Jodha, the Deputy Regiment Commander who brought about the final victory after the death of his commander.

Despite the short acquaintance and the ninety two years that had passed, warmth and appreciation was felt throughout the ceremony. We owe a massive debt to those soldiers, Yigal Greiber said. Shlomo Gilba, a member of the Haifa City Council, added, This was a critical battle for the city, one which few of its residents know about. Therefore, Haifa will do everything in its power to tell this amazing story, to honor the memory of the heroes who fell. 

It is a huge honor to represent the Ministry of Defense here, said Maj. Gen. (res.) Amos Gilad, its very important to me, both as an Israeli and as a native of Haifa who grew up in this area. We thank you and we salute you. The Indian Ambassador to Israel, Navtej Sarna, said, The ceremony in which we take part today is another example, one of many, of the strong ties between Israel and India.

According to Ambassador Sarna, Indian cooperation with Israel during World War I is an example of high moral obligation. They fought in a strange country against conquest and oppression and even paid a heavy price, at a time when a similar struggle for independence was taking place.

It is important that you know how much your land in sealed in Indian memory

Col. M.S. Johda, a high ranking official in the Indian General Staff, described his feelings towards this special ceremony in an interview with IDF Website. There is no officer in the Indian army who doesnt know the story of the Battle of Haifa. This is one of the reasons why this ceremony taking place here, in Israel, is so important. It is important that you know how much your land is sealed in Indian memory, he said.

According to Ambassador Sarna, There is a square in New Delhi, which is a memorial for those who fell in Haifa. It is one of the most outstanding squares in the city and one of the dearest to me personally. In my youth I didnt know its significance until an officer in our army explained it to me.

For Col. Kaspi, the presence and support of Israel security forces at such as event was extremely appropriate.  The death of soldiers, and wars which take place on certain ground, create a unique bond between people. A bond in blood. When these are created, especially in a country where death occurs even today, there is great significance in the sharing of pain and grief. As military people, there is importance in taking a stand and saying together: when we send soldiers to war, we remember them, Col. Kaspi said to IDF Website.

According to her,The fact that the country creates a space for this ceremony, and participates in it, constitutes fuel for continuing emotional ties. This is something which influences the relations between two countries in a way which cannot be ignored.