Battle of Haifa appropriated to suit modern political agendas


There is a twisted irony to the renaming, in the presence of the Israeli prime minister, of the iconic Teen Murti Chowk (literally, Three Statues Circle), an important road crossing in New Delhi, as “Teen Murti Haifa Chowk” in remembrance of the soldiers from the Indian subcontinent who died in the battle to take the city from the defending Ottoman army on Sept. 23, 1918. Benjamin Netanyahu belongs to a political party whose founding leader was one of the fiercest enemies of the British mandatory power in Palestine. And, while the Indian soldiers died fulfilling the aims of the British colonizers, the winners or beneficiaries were surely not the Indian people, who experienced a massive drain of men and material in a war effort far removed from the land that mattered to them.
While this battle must be studied as part of the military history of India and even commemorated as an example of bravery and the successful execution of a military mission, the idea of seeing the episode as a victory for liberty against the illiberal forces of the day, as is rendered in popular Indian discourse, is a poor reading of history. It should also not be lost on the Indian people that our heroic soldiers were not defending their country, but fighting a war that enabled the British colonizers to keep the land and sea route to the “Golden Bird” free from challengers. However, the Indians had little recourse to their agency, captive as they were under the coercion and cruelty of their colonial masters.

India and Israel’s celebration of the 1918 ‘liberation’ of the city from the Ottomans as a victory for liberty against the illiberal forces of the day is a poor reading of history.

Dr. Sujata Ashwarya


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