On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi will embark upon a historic visit to Israel aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties with the Jewish nation. His three-day visit assumes significance as Modi will be the first-ever Indian Prime Minister to visit Israel. Marking 25 years of diplomatic relations, both the countries are expected to discuss a wide range of issues, including terrorism. During his stay, he will also visit the Haifa Indian Cemetery to pay homage to the brave Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the liberation of Haifa in 1918.
Every year on September 23, the Indian Army celebrates ‘Haifa Day’ to commemorate the war dead during the Battle of Haifa, considered as one of the bravely-contested battles of World War I. The Teen Murti memorial was constructed in 1922 in the memory of the Indian soldiers from three princely states namely Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Mysore who served present day Gaza strip, Israel and Palestine during the World War I under British India Army.
History and significance of Haifa war and its Indian Cemetery
Owing to its rail and harbour, Israeli port city of Haifa was a strategic supply base. In addition to Haifa, the Allied Forces also engineered a plan to annexe Nazareth and Damascus in present-day Israel and Syria. On September 23, 1918, the 15th (Imperial Service) Cavalry Brigade comprising lancers from the regiments of princely states of Jodhpur and Mysore inflicted heavy assault on positions held by Ottoman Turks in and around the city of Haifa. Eventually, the Indian cavalry brigades fighting under the leadership of British General Edmund Allenby helped liberate Haifa from the clutches of the Turkish-German forces.
The victory was even more special as the Indian soldiers were armed only with lances (a kind of spear) and swords while the Turks had in their possession advance artillery and machine guns. The Indian troops displayed exemplary cavalry skills and valour during what was considered to be the last major cavalry campaign in military history. “No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign,” the Official History of the War observed while aptly describing the resilience of the Indian troops. “Machine gun bullets over and over again failed to stop the galloping horses even though many of them succumbed afterwards to their injuries.”
A total of 1,350 German and Ottoman prisoners were captured by the two Indian regiments. This also includes the confinement of two German officers, 35 Ottoman officers, 17 artillery guns and 11 machine guns. Meanwhile, Indian casualties amounted to eight dead and 34 wounded, while 60 horses were killed and another 83 injured.
The Haifa Indian Cemetery, which continued to be in use until October 1920, contains the graves of 49 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War.