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'In Haifa, India has now come full circle'

IN MAY 1996, I was in Jerusalem for the world congress of the International Press Institute (IPI) and a political battle was in the offing. Labour leader and prime minister Shimon Peres was taking on Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu. It was barely five months since prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was gunned down by Yigal Amir, an Orthodox Jew who said he was acting on God’s instructions. Strange the things people do in God’s name!


The May 12, 1996, issue of THE WEEK also carried my interview with Peres. More than the outcome of the election, he was worried about what the result would do to the peace process in Israel. In his address to the IPI world congress, he said: “I remember the swimming instructor of the army who once taught some recruits how to cross the Lake of Tiberias. The instructor said if you reach the middle of the lake and feel tired, don’t swim back. To continue will take you the same effort.” I interpreted it as a veiled message to Netanyahu, who would succeed him in June 1996.


Speaking of the electoral tumult in Israel, I am reminded that we went through three prime ministers between 1996 and 1998—A.B. Vajpayee, H.D. Deve Gowda and I.K. Gujral. Even as faces change in politics, I think Peres’s message holds true for everyone—to stick to the course and plough a straight furrow.


This week’s cover story is on the recently announced India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor and the key piece in the gambit, the Haifa Port. Deputy Chief of Bureau in Delhi Namrata Biji Ahuja travelled to Israel and interviewed Foreign Minister Eli Cohen, and the former Israeli ambassador to India, Ron Malka, who is now executive chairman of Haifa Port.


I think I first learnt about Haifa’s India connection when I was a student in Delhi and ‘met’ the three lancers at Teen Murti Chowk. The three lancers on eternal vigil at the cenotaph represent the men of the Hyderabad, Jodhpur and Mysore Lancers who were part of the 15 Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade which took the fortified city of Haifa from the Ottomans on September 23, 1918, during World War I. So, in Haifa, India has now come full circle.


As always, there is a lot more on offer for you, dear reader. Guest writer Pranay Sanklecha has brought out the story of climate researcher Joyeeta Gupta. She is perseverance personified and the latest winner of the Spinoza Prize, which is arguably the Dutch Nobel. Senior Special Correspondent K. Sunil Thomas discusses the looming duopoly in Indian aviation. Then there is the coverage of the Asian Games.


As I wind down, I am amazed at how Netanyahu is still on Page 1 of newspapers—27 years down the line. I also think of Peres who has passed on. He remains the only Nobel Peace Prize laureate I have interviewed. Wonder what he would have to say about the current war in the region he was born in. Peres was born on August 2, 1923, in Vishnevo village, Belarus.