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Saturday, May 18, 2024

Did the British-Indian soldiers lay down their lives for Israel?

Every year on September 23, the Indian Army observes Haifa Day to honor the three British-Indian cavalry regiments - the Mysore, Hyderabad, and Jodhpur Lancers - who assisted the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade in capturing Haifa from Ottoman authority.

The Indian Army commemorates 23 September every year as Haifa Day to remember the three British-Indian cavalry regiments -Mysore, Hyderabad, and Jodhpur Lancers that helped capture Haifa from Ottoman rule following a cavalry action by the 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade.

On October 17, 2021, Indian External Affairs Minister Jaishankar began his five-day visit to Israel by laying a wreath at a cemetery in Talpiot, Jerusalem, for British-Indian soldiers who laid down their lives in the region during WWI.  Israel was created in May 1948, thirty years after the end of WWI. The Indian Foreign Minister, and the Indian PM, Modi during an earlier visit to Israel, gave an impression as if Indian troops had fought for the emancipation of Jews, resulting in the establishment of the Jewish state.

Whereas the Indian government now acknowledges the contribution of all the regiments taking part in the capture of Haifa, Modi had, earlier, disowned the Hyderabad Lancers representing the Muslim state of Hyderabad. When India occupied the Hyderabad state in September 1948, Hyderabad Lancers were amalgamated into the Indian army.

Read more: Op-ed: the India-Israel nexus and its implications for Pakistan

Historical Background

Palestine was captured by the Ottoman Turks in 1486 when hostilities broke out between the Mamluks and the Ottoman Turks for control over West Asia. During WWI (1914-1918) the Ottomans sided with the Axis Powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan) whereas the Allies (Britain, France, Russia, and the US) fought against the Axis Powers.  As part of the Allied operations in the Middle East, Britain sent an expeditionary force, which also included the British Indian Army’s 15th ImperialService Cavalry Brigade, to fight against the Ottoman Army in Palestine.

During WWI, the Arab Revolt was a military uprising of Arab forces in the Middle Eastern theatre, against the Ottoman control of the Arab lands.  Based on the Mc Mahon – Hussein correspondence, an agreement between the British government and Sharif Hussein of Makkah was reached. The Arab revolt was officially initiated at Makkah on June 10, 1916. The revolt aimed to create a single, unified, and independent Arab state stretching from Aleppo in Syria to Aden in Yemen, which the British promised to recognize.  As a result of the Arab Revolt, supported by Britain and France, the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and the Turks were driven out of the Arab Middle East.

Sharif Hussein of Makkah was the Emir of Makkah since 1908 and, after proclaiming the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, King of the Hejaz from 1916 to 1924. At the end of his reign he also briefly laid claim to the office of Caliph. Those who have seen the movie “Lawrence of Arabia” would recall that in the movie Sharif Hussein is portrayed as a greedy and power-hungry tribal chief.

Colonel T.E. Lawrence, a British adventurer, played a key role in organizing the Arab resistance against the Ottoman Empire.  From his base in the Arabian Peninsula, Lawrence led the Arab rebels in a series of hit and run guerrilla operations behind the Turkish lines, focusing on the mining of bridges and supply trains and the appearance of Arab units, first in one place and then another, tying down enemy forces that otherwise would have been deployed elsewhere, and keeping the Damascus-to-Medina railway largely inoperable, with potential Turkish reinforcements thus helpless to crush the uprising.

Read more: Similarities between India’s Kashmir and Israel’s Palestine

The British-led Egyptian Expeditionary Force, commanded by Edmund Allenby, captured Jerusalem on 9 December 1917 and occupied the whole of the Levant (Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria) following the defeat of Turkish forces in Palestine at the Battle of Megiddo in September 1918 and the capitulation of Turkey on 31 October.

In the final analysis

During WW1, the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire, comprising three British Indian Army cavalry regiments, captured Haifa as Part of the British – Egyptian Expeditionary Force. The British conquest of Palestine took place when The Arab Middle East was in the throes of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire.

Under the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916, it was agreed between Britain and France that Palestine, when freed from Ottoman control, would become an international zone, not under direct French or British colonial control. Shortly thereafter, British foreign minister Arthur Balfour issued the Balfour Declaration, which promised to establish a “Jewish national home” in Palestine.

Ironically, the British Indian Army troops, fighting under the leadership of their British commanders, would not have the wildest idea if laying down their lives would be exploited by the leaders of independent India by distorting the historical facts. Contrary to what the Indian government would have the world believe, during WW1 the Indian Muslims had waged a vigorous campaign in favor of the Ottoman Empire.


Saleem Akhtar Malik is a Pakistan Army veteran who writes on national and international affairs, defense, military history, and military technology. He Tweets at @saleemakhtar53. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.