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The Haifa Connection In The Heart Of Delhi Is In The Spotlight As Modi Visits City's Indian Cemetery

Teen Murti Haifa Marg commemorates Indian contribution to Haifa during the first world war.

04/07/2017 7:46 PM IST | Updated 06/07/2017 4:28 PM IST
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Editor's note: This story has been edited to reflect that Modi visited Haifa today.

Haifa was in the news in April when the Teen Murti Marg in New Delhi was to be renamed after the Israeli city. And now, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the Indian cemetery in Haifa as part of his much publicised tour of Israel.

The Times of India reported that the prime minister laid a wreath to pay respect to the Indian soldiers buried there.

India's connection with the city goes far back. In 1918, Indian soldiers, fighting along the British Empire troops as part of the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade, had liberated the city from the Ottoman Empire in World War 1 and came under British rule.

Interestingly, Haifa came to be a part of the State of Israel in 1948 after another Battle of Haifa.

In Historic Cities of the Islamic World Clifford Edmund Bosworth writes, "During the Palestine War of 1948–9, it was inevitable that such an important port and industrial centre as Haifa should be fought over. On 21 April 1948 the general of Àcer commanding British troops in Haifa informed Arab and Jewish leaders that he was going to concentrate his forces in the port area and the roads leading to it and withdraw from the rest of the city. This announcement was followed by a swift struggle which left Haifa in Jewish hands, and the greater part of the Arab population left by sea to Acre and Lebanon or by land to Nazareth.The circumstances remain obscure and controversial,but the end result was that, of the 50,000 Arabs living in Haifa before the Palestine War, only 3,000 remained after the struggle; by 1965, however, the Arab population of Haifa numbered about 10,000."

Today Haifa is the third largest city and the largest port in the country.

ANI had reported that Modi will visit the memorial with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The report said that a plaque to honour Major Dalpat Singh Shekhawat, who led the Jodhpur Lancers, will also be unveiled.

Shekhawat died during battle, and hence came to be known as the 'Hero of Haifa'

The Jodhpur Imperial Service Lancers had captured the city of Haifa, with the help of the Mysore and Hyderabad Lancers, as a part of the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade.

The World Heritage Encylopaedia says, "During the Battle of Haifa, the Indian 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade, 5th Cavalry Division and part of the Desert Mounted Corps attacked rearguard forces of the Ottoman Empire that resulted in the capture of the towns of Haifa and Acre. This attack took place at the north western edge of the Esdraelon Plain (also known as the Jezreel Valley and the plain of Armageddon) 40–50 miles (64–80 km) behind the front line in the Judean Hills after the Desert Mounted Corps had occupied the plain, during the cavalry phase of the Battle of Sharon."

In the aftermath of the war, the Teen Murti Circle in Lutyens Delhi was built by British sculptor Leonard Jennings in 1922 and the Haifa India Cemetery was built in Israel. The three statues in the memorial depict the regiments of Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore.

More recently, in 2012, the municipality of Haifa introduced text books in schools that lauded the effort of the Indian soldiers.

PTI had reported that the city celebrates Haifa day on September 23 with week long festivities. The report also quoted the Official History of the War (Military operation Egypt and Palestine: volume 2) as saying, "No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign. Machine gun bullets over and over again failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries."

The Indian Army also celebrates Haifa Day every September 23 to remember the 900 soldiers who had died in the war.

Recently the NDMC took a decision to rename Teen Murti Marg to Teen Murti Haifa Marg, apparently to clear the "wrong impression" about the name of the road.

"The Teen Murti Chowk was named to mark the role of the three cavalry regiments. But no one knows this today. The moment people think of the Teen Murti they think of Gandhiji's monkeys. This is a wrong impression that needs to be corrected," the Ministry of Culture had said.

The decision to rename the road assumes significance ahead of Modi's visit to Israel. He is the first Indian prime minister to visit the country.

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