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A Long Awaited Reunion

Israeli history

This week we Israelis had a historic moment. India`s Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Narendra Modi visited Israel for 3 days, from Wednesday 4th-7th of July 2017.In the afternoon by 3.30 pm the Air India plane landed at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Red carpets were spread on the ground. Our Prime Minister Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu was waiting down near the staircase, the doors were opened and there was sudden amazement. After nearly 70 years of independence, the Prime Minister of India, Honorable Mr. Narendra Modi arrived in Israel. He stood there in the doors of the plane and raised his both hands in joined form as namaste. He received a warm welcome by our Prime Minister, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu. Mr. Netanyahu greeted Mr. Modi in Hindi “Aapka Israel mein swagat  hai  mere  dost”.

For the first time in Israeli history we waved an Indian flag on our parliament roof before arrival of Prime Minister Modiji. For us Israelis it was a proud moment. In another first in Israel, national anthem of India, “Jana Gana Mana” was played by an Israeli orchestra at the airport. After getting a fabulous salute by Israeli army officers Mr. Modi   started his speech by saying “Shalom Alechem” in Hebrew. It is the way of greeting in Israel.  He also said in Hebrew “Ani sameach lihiyot be Israel” means I am happy to be in Israel. In his speech he remembered that 41 years ago on the same day of 4th of July, in the year 1976 the younger brother of our Prime Minister Netanyahu, Yoni Netanyahu had lost his life while saving lives of Israelis during the Entebbe mission. In the end of his speech Mr. Modi thanked our Prime Minister Mr. Netanyahu for a tremendous welcome. Once again after getting a salute from Israeli and Indian Army officers, and after shaking hands with members of Israeli Parliament and representatives the leaders of both the nations, started their journey for Jerusalem. On their way to Jerusalem their first stop was at a flower nursery where a new fast growing Chrysanthemum flower was named ‘Modi’ in honour of the Indian Prime Minister. By 6.30 pm Mr. Modi visited ‘Yad Vashem’ the official Israeli Holocaust Memorial Center. During the visit Mr. Modi lit the eternal flame at the memorial.

Later on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Theodor Herzel`s grave. Theodor Herzel is the maker of an agreement of Israel`s existence. He was the founder of Zionism.

After arriving in Jerusalem at Mr. Netanyahu’s formal residence Prime Minister Modi received another warm welcome by Mrs. Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Both the leaders enjoyed a Indian-style dinner prepared by an Indian chef from Tel Aviv, Mrs. Reena Pushkarna. She was accompanied by an Indian-born Israeli singer, Liora Isaac.

Next morning after performing some Yogasans both the leaders arrived at the residence of President of Israel, Mr. Ruby Rivlin in Jerusalem for a formal meeting. The President said, “Modi is a leader who pays all attention to the needs and opportunities of his people. He praised him as one of the greatest leaders today. President Mr. Rivlin also told Mr. Modi that Israel hopes to deepen its cooperation with India. Israel and India have signed a series of agreements to cooperate in the fields of technology, water and agriculture. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “The cooperation marks a match in heaven” as he stood alongside the visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Indian Prime Minister found time between hectic diplomatic appointments to meet one special little Israeli boy in Jerusalem, Moshe Holzberg, a 11-year old who survived a terrorist attack on a Jewish Chabad Center in Mumbai in the year 2008 in which both his parents were killed with six others. Moshe then 2-years old, was saved by his Indian nanny, Sandra Samuel who hid with him in a room after the two gunmen stormed the house. She later managed to escape with the child.

Sandra Samuel now 53 was granted honorary citizenship by Israel. Today she lives in Jerusalem and visits Moshe every Sunday at his grandparent`s home in Afula which is about 95 kms away.  Modiji invited shy smiling Moshe and his grandparents to visit India especially Mumbai. For all of us it was an emotional meeting. “Dear Mr. Modi, I love you” said Moshe in English. “I want to and I surely will come”, said the little boy. Modiji held him close and promised him that  he will always get love of Indian people.

After this emotional meeting now was the time for some exchange of agreements between the two nations of India and Israel. The meeting of Indian & Israeli industrialists for Free Trade Agreement was held. The forum also proposed visa requirements for workers and increasing the number of flights between Israel and India. The recommendations also included proposals for boosting of tourism between the two countries. In the evening they made an announcement that IAI (Israel Aircraft Industries) will broaden its cooperation with India by signing an agreement. Prime Minister Netanyahu also brought up the investigation of a 2012 attack on the Israeli Embassy in New Delhi.

Israelis had a historic momentNow finally the moment for what we Jews of India were waiting for arrived. Thousands of Jews and Indians from all over Israel had gathered enthusiastically into Tel Aviv Convention Center on Wednesday evening to attend a rock concert-cum-a political rally, complete with pop music and speeches from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Complete with strobe lights and huge screens, the hanger-like space resembled a rock concert, as Bollywood singer Sukhwinder Singh performed energetically and warmed the crowd up with rhythmic calls of “India and Israel!” between numbers. Dozens of posters hung on the walls (most in English and a few in Hebrew) welcoming Modiji, calling him “The creator of modern India,” and carrying logos for the ‘25 years of growing partnership’ between India and Israel.

This event was one of the public highlights of Modi’s three-day visit to Israel, the first ever by an Indian Prime Minister, and was organized by the Indian Embassy, which had chartered buses to bring in Indian citizens from all over Israel. Dozens of people gathered in small groups in the plaza outside the hall despite the Tel Aviv heat, waving flags and performing traditional dances. “Jai (Glory to) India! Jai to Israel,” many called out spontaneously. “Modi knows that there are millions of Indian-born people who live outside of India, some for good number of years, some for a few years.  He knows that the Indian diaspora is important, both diplomatically and economically.” said PM Netanyahu.

According to the Indian Embassy, there are an estimated 80,000 Jews of Indian-origin living in Israel. Although diplomatic relations between the two countries were established 25 years ago they have been based on extensive sales of weapons, scientific exchanges, and economic trade.

During the event one Riya Thomas, 18, an electrical engineering student at Tel Aviv University from Bangalore, said that Modi’s message of renewed and enhanced relationships is particularly important for young people like her. “We can come here and learn from your expertise, and take our knowledge back to India, where we can help our country advance even further. Modi’s visit signals new opportunities – for our country and for many of us as individuals”. According to the Indian Embassy, there are currently some 550 Indian students studying at Israeli universities, most in doctoral and post-doctoral programs, and most funded by special programs that provide scholarships for them to come to Israel.

Later, people called out “He’s coming! He’s inside!”, and all ran into the hanger as Netanyahu and Modi walked onto the stage. In their speeches, both leaders continued to emphasize historical, cultural and social ties. After the singing of the national anthems of the two nations, as thousands of smartphones filmed, pressing his hands together and bowing slightly Netanyahu greeted the audience with “Shalom and Namaste”. The crowd roared and continued to interrupt his speech with wildly appreciative applause at least a dozen times more.

 “The partnership between our two countries is a partnership made in heaven,” declared Netanyahu, who spoke in English. “But it’s happening right now, here on earth we will always remember that there is a human bridge between us. We admire you, we respect you and we love you.”

Modi, who spoke mostly in Hindi as his quotes were tweeted in English, emphasized the many achievements of the Jewish people throughout the world, as well as their cultural and economic contributions to India. “Our ties are a sign of our friendship and dependability,” Modi said. He emphasized the friendship between the two leaders and the two men. He said, “Last night when we were chatting late after dinner, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave me a photograph of Indian soldiers from World War II who helped free Jerusalem,” he told the audience.

This was the first ever visit by an Indian Premier to Israel, Modi said, “This meeting is a matter of joy It took many years for this visit to happen”.

On Thursday Mr. Modi visited Indian military cemetery in Haifa and paid respect. Mr. Modi mentioned the 1918 battle of Haifa during his statements. PM Narendra Modi and PM Netanyahu later visited a mobile desalination unit on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. Earlier in the day the Indian Prime Minister got a chance to see Israel`s newest technologies.  Mr. Netanyahu drove a newly developed Jeep along the shore with Modiji, a new vehicle that can transform sea water into drinking water. The two leaders also took time to cool off from the heat by taking a stroll in the waters of the Mediterranean Sea. They both made some eye catching snaps. Modiji thanked his Israeli friend Mr. Netanyahu for the signed photo, amazing hospitality and passion towards India-Israel friendship.

Mr. Narendra Modi ended his Israel visit on Thursday, 6th of July in the afternoon. PM Benjamin Netanyahu accompanied him to Ben Gurion Airport where a special ceremony took place in honour of the occasion. Before leaving, Modiji invited Mr. Netanyahu to visit India on the occasion of Republic Day of India, 26th January 2018.

During Mr. Modi’s visit, Israel and India have signed a series of agreements to cooperate in fields such as space, agriculture, water conservation and technology. They have also signed agreements regarding defense, shared intelligence and anti-terrorism activity, although these have been played down in both the countries. Rather the public content of the visit has emphasized on shared cultural values and people-to-people ties. The speeches given by Mr. Netanyahu and Mr. Modi indicate the friendship of the two great nations. I am ending this article with a firm conviction that the relationship in both the nations will remain unbreakable.

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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