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Teen Murti street renamed after Haifa: All you need to know about the historical battle

Unlike most British battles in the region, the one at Haifa was fought by cavalry regiments of the Indian Maharajas and not the British army.

Battle of Haifa (1918) (Wikimedia Commons)

The Teen Murti Chowk and the Teen Murti Marg will henceforth be known as the ‘Teen Murti Haifa Chowk’ after the Israeli city of Haifa. The move has been made few months ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel in July and is an effort to pay tribute to a lesser known aspect of the history of India-Israel relations. The three statues that is the focal point of the Teen Murti Chowk, often misinterpreted as having connections with Mahatma Gandhi, are in fact a symbol of tribute to three famous Indian state forces who were part of the British imperial service cavalry brigade during the First World War, and had played a crucial role in overcoming Ottoman rule in Israel. The battle to conquer Haifa is commemorated every year in Israel and special homage is paid to the Indian soldiers without whom the modern state of Israel would never have come into existence.

The battle of Haifa, that took place in 1918, was part of a series of battles fought between the allied powers and the Ottoman empire along with Germany, called the Sinai and Palestine campaign. However, unlike most British battles in the region, the one at Haifa was fought by cavalry regiments of the Indian Maharajas and not the British army. These soldiers of Indian royalty is believed to have fought out of choice, and not because they were forced by the British. Speaking at the commemoration event in 2010 in Haifa, Indian ambassador to Israel said that “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.”

The brigade fighting in Haifa consisted of forces from three states- Jodhpur, Mysore and Hyderabad. On September 23, the brigade, that was involved in operation in Palestine under Edmund Allenby was ordered to advance into Haifa and capture Israel. The Ottoman Turks had left no stone unturned to make the advance of the imperial regiment next to impossible. Turkish guns and artillery had covered every part of the defile leading to the town of Haifa. However, the imperial regiment managed to battle through every obstacle and came out victorious, having captured a total of 700 prisoners, 17 guns and 11 machine guns. In turn, the loss to the Indian forces amounted to 8 dead, 34 wounded, 60 horses dead and 83 others wounded.

In the huge loss of blood and lives incurred, these Indian soldiers had successfully built a robust political relationship between two nations, born out of British dominance, and being celebrated for the last hundred years.