The Indian Soldiers Who Fought to Liberate the Land of Israel

July 10 2017

During his visit to Israel last week, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accompanied by Benjamin Netanyahu, paid a visit to a cemetery in Haifa where 44 Indian soldiers who fought with the British army during World War I were laid to rest. September 23, 1917, the anniversary of the Battle of Haifa—during which these soldiers fell—is still commemorated by the modern Indian Army. Lenny Ben-David tells the story of the Indian troops who fought to free Palestine from Ottoman rule, and especially their role in the liberation of Jerusalem:

More than a million Indian troops fought with the British army in World War I, at the Western front in Europe [and] in Africa, Mesopotamia, and the Near East. On the Sinai-Palestine front, 95,000 Indian combatants served; approximately 10 percent were killed. From 1914 to 1918, they fought the Turkish and German armies at Gallipoli and the Suez Canal, throughout the Sinai and Palestine, and finally at Damascus, with crucial battles in Gaza, Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa, Nablus, and Megiddo. . . .

The Indian troops served in the cavalry, camel corps, infantry, and logistics units. A large number of them were Muslims, and the Turks attempted to weaken their resolve with religious appeals. Except for a few cases, the Turkish propaganda failed. The importance of Muslim soldiers was understood by the British commander Edmund Allenby. After capturing Jerusalem, he cabled to London, “The Mosque of Omar and the area round it has been placed under Muslim control, and a military cordon, composed of Indian Mahomedan officers and soldiers, has been established round the mosque.” . . .

The war ended in 1918, but British and Indian troops remained to police the British Mandate and put down Arab disturbances.

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More about: Edmund Allenby, History & Ideas, Israel-India relations, Israeli history, World War I

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East