Ambassador Alon Ushpiz's Speech on Haifa Day 23rd September
Mr. Rajesh Gogna, Secretary General of HRDI,
Mr. Jaswant Singh,
Ladies and gentlemen, dear guests,
A hidden link connects two places, thousands of miles from each other. One is in the downtown of the city in which I was born, in the northern part of Israel - Haifa. The other one, a few minutes’ drive from where we are assembled today - The Teen Murti Memorial, just outside of the Teen Murti Bhavan.
Many do not know the full story of the brave soldiers who had freed the city of Haifa and later the Middle East from the rule of the Ottoman Empire on this day, 95 years ago.
Along Jaffa Street in the downtown of Haifa, not far away from the beach in which you can hear nowadays the voices of playing children, lie two cemeteries for the soldiers who fought bravely for the liberation of the city from 400 years of Ottoman control. The Haifa Indian Cemetery and the Haifa War Cemetery pay homage to the many lives of Indian, British, Australian and New Zealand soldiers that died in the First World War in battles against the Ottomans and especially in the battle of Haifa. 354 brave men including 47 Indians.
The heroism, tenacity and cavalry skills of the Mysore and Jodhpur Lancers that took control of the City from the Turks on the 23rd of September 1918, proved to be a decisive factor in the victory over the Ottoman Empire. The historical battle of Haifa paved the way to the victory of the British Army and 30 years later - to the creation of the State of Israel.
Close to 900 Indian soldiers are buried in 7 cemeteries in Israel, from Jerusalem to Ramleh to Haifa, demonstrating the major sacrifice that was made, and act as an immortal testimonial for their heroism.
The connection, ladies and gentlemen, between the Teen Murti Memorial and the cemetery in Haifa goes way beyond honoring those who gave their lives to ensure ours. It is also an expression of a bond between two independent nations that were born thousands of years before gaining their political independence and that truly cherish the same values that our free and open societies treasure.
The Great War happened three decades prior to the independence of both India and Israel. Yet, both people were able to have even before that a strong bondage. A bondage, ladies and gentlemen, which was also reflected in the rich and active lives of the flourishing Jewish community in India, a community whose son and leader, General Jacob, we are fortunate to have with us today.
Haifa, located on the green slopes of Mount Carmel lowering into the blue water of the Mediterranean, shares similarities with India in many ways. It is home to many people with various faiths and religions, living together side by side. Haifa, probably one of the most culturally diverse cities in Israel, is home to Jews, Christians, Muslim, Druze and Baha’i that live together in a blend of language, culture, food and religion.
And this Israeli salad bowl, the equivalent of the Indian Tali, is what makes us special and strong.
In the cemetery for those fallen soldiers of the British forces, one can find Christian soldiers, Hindus, Sikhs, Muslim and Jewish soldiers. The sense of shared destiny and friendship among people with different backgrounds, as well as their bravery, is a legacy they left for the residents and people of Haifa and all of Israel today.
A while back, the municipality of Haifa had decided to include in its school curriculum stories of the valiant efforts of the Indian soldiers in liberating the city. For it is our duty to preserve, but even more than that, to share with our sons and daughters this heritage and this memory of those who sacrificed their lives.
Next week we will host a delegation of the Indian Lok Sabha members in Israel. Together with Ambassador Jadeep Sarkar, they will participate for the third time in a ceremony in the Haifa Indian Cemetery honoring the Indian fallen soldiers.
Dear friends, as the Ambassador of Israel and as a proud son of the city of Haifa, I am grateful that you granted me the opportunity to commemorate today those who had liberated my hometown and to pay my respect to those who have lost their lives doing so. Haifa Day is for us a day of memory and honor for those brave soldiers.
May their souls rest in peace.
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