Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-day visit to Israel was full of many firsts. The visit, the first by an Indian prime minister since the establishment of Israel 70 years ago, assumed great political significance with India now hoping to leverage its relationship with the Jewish nation to attract more investment, and gain from Israeli cutting-edge technology and defence. Israel pulled out all stops to welcome Modi.
His counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu broke protocol to come to the Ben Gurion airport, an honour reserved only for the US President and the Pope. Netanyahu’s entire Cabinet was also present as were representatives of various religious orders. In their prepared speeches, both leaders described each other as, “my friend” and embraced each other three times. “Aapka swagat hai, mere dost (welcome, my friend),” Netanyahu said in Hindi, adding, “We love India.” Modi responded by speaking a few words in Hebrew, “Shalom (hello), I am happy to be here.”
This year, India and Israel are marking 25 years of their diplomatic relations. The visit saw India and Israel elevate their ties to the strategic partnership level with both vowing to do “much more together” to combat growing radicalisation and terrorism while pitching for strong action against those financing and providing sanctuaries to terror groups. Modi said his visit celebrated the strength of centuries-old links between the two societies and “based on these bonds, our partnership has maintained a strong and sustained upswing since the establishment of full relationship, diplomatic relations, 25 years ago”.
During the visit, Modi and Netanyahu also discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and underlined the need for the establishment of a just and durable peace in the region that has been marred by years of conflict. Modi did not travel to Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, to meet with Palestinian leaders, as is common for visiting foreign dignitaries. The move is seen as a significant departure from the past when Indian leaders always visited Palestinian territories while visiting Israel. He, however, had met Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New Delhi in May. The two countries signed seven agreements to boost bilateral cooperation in key areas like science and technology, water, research and space.
Modi had a hectic schedule. Soon after landing, he visited the Danziger flower farm in Moshav Mishmar Hashiva along with Netanyahu and Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel to learn about latest innovations and advancements in floriculture. The flower farm is one of Israel’s leading floriculture companies with approximately 80,000 sq m of stateof-the-art greenhouses specialising in reproduction of plants.
The farm developed into a company of 200 employees from a small family business, growing and selling cut flowers. Today, the farm produces young plants and cuttings for the local market and for more than 60 countries all over the world. A new fast-growing Israeli flower, Israeli Crysanthumun, was named after Modi, in a special gesture to mark his visit of an Indian premier to the Jewish nation. “New fast-growing Israeli Crysanthumun flower named in honor of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and will be called “MODI”. Indeed, a #GrowingPartnership!,” Israel’s official twitter handle said. Modi also called on Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and discussed ways to strengthen bilateral ties and how Israel’s cutting-edge technology could help the ‘Make in India’ initiative. Modi and Netanyhu met several times.
The two leaders wide-ranging talks and agreed to cooperate to protect their strategic interests of the two countries and called for strong measures against terror groups and their sponsors. A joint statement said the two leaders recognised that terrorism poses a grave threat to global peace and stability and reiterated their strong commitment to combat it in all its forms and manifestations.
“They stressed that there can be no justification for acts of terror on any grounds whatsoever,” it said. The leaders asserted that strong measures should be taken against terrorists, terror organisations, their networks and all those who encourage, support and finance terrorism, or provide sanctuary to terrorists and terror groups, it said.
Both leaders also committed to cooperate for the early adoption of the Comprehensive Convention on International terrorism (CCIT), the statement added. Modi met Moshe Holtzberg, the Israeli child who narrowly escaped death in the 2008 Mumbai terror attack and invited him to India. In Tel Aviv, Modi met the Indian diaspora and announced that people of Indian origin in Israel will get the Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) cards even if they have undergone the compulsory army service in that country. He also said that direct flights would be launched between Delhi, Mumbai and Tel Aviv to encourage people-to-people contacts.
Modi also went to Haifa and saluted the Indian soldiers who laid down their lives during the World War I while protecting that Israeli city from the Ottoman Empire forces and said the sacrifices made by them is a mark of enduring bond between the two nations. He unveiled a plaque commemorating Major Dalpat Singh, known as the ‘Hero of Haifa’ for his critical role in the liberation of the city. “I am deeply honoured to stand here today to salute the valiant Indian soldiers, who led down
their lives for the liberation of Haifa during the WW I,” Modi wrote in the guest book. “The exceptional bravery and supreme sacrifice of Major Thakur Dalpat Singh MC, the ‘Hero of Haifa’ and his men, will be remembered forever and continue to inspire generations to come. Next year, the centenary of the battle of Haifa will present another opportunity to mark this enduring bond between India and Israel,” he wrote.
The Indian Army commemorates September 23 every year as Haifa Day to pay its respects to the two brave Indian Cavalry Regiments that helped liberate the city following a dashing cavalry action by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade. In the autumn of 1918, the Indian Brigade was a part of the Allied Forces sweeping northwards through Palestine in what is seen as the last great cavalry campaign in history.
In 2012, the municipality of Haifa decided to immortalise the sacrifices made by Indian soldiers, many of whom are buried in the cemetery there, by including the stories of their valiant efforts in school curricula. Accompanied by Netanyahu, Modi also went to Yad Vashem, Israel’s largest memorial of the Holocaust that was among the greatest tragedies in human history as some six million Jews were killed by Nazi Germany.
The leaders toured the Hall of Names, containing photographs and names of Holocaust victims, and the Children’s Memorial and participated in a memorial ceremony in the Hall of Remembrance. In the visitors’ book at the memorial, Modi, wrote, “I am deeply moved by my visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum.
It is as much a poignant reminder of the unspeakable evil inflicted generations ago as it is a symbol of the endurance and fortitude of the Jewish people.” “As we deal with conflict, intolerance, hatred and terror in our time, Yad Vashem serves as a mirror to societies around the world. May we not forget the injustices of the past and its devastating toll on humanity. And remembering the past, may we empower our children to make compassionate, just and righteous choices for their future,” Modi wrote.