We were all excited about the Indian government at last declaring complete diplomatic relations with Israel. For long we used to receive 'Israel Today' from the consulate office of Israel from Mumbai. Then the magazine became 'News from Israel'. We used to read with awe and wonder how Israel battled the harsh environments in more than one way with amazing technologies—whether it be feeding its citizens in those arid desert lands or defending its people against terrorism. When the Gulf war erupted, the Leftists launched a propaganda war in India, with Islamists as their comrades in arm. The posters screamed about Nazi-Zionists and imperial capitalists. We were watching with horror a new phenomenon emerging in India—antisemitism, something India had never known. I remember 'Israel Today' coming up with the revelation about the Nazi-Palestine connection. It also published a photo of a mother delivering a child and, the mother and the new born infant wearing gas masks. It was the time when Saddam was threatening Israel with chemical warheads and was firing scud missiles at Israel.
Beyond the US ambitions, we understood war from the Israeli point of view. For Israel it was a war for her existence. She has always fought for her existence and not for her expansion. Shimon Peres was then the Israeli foreign minister. We were thrilled when he visited India. We later came to know that he was one of the founding fathers of the modern state of Israel which was also a very ancient nation—a parallel it has with India.
When Israel was born, Peres was considered a 'sidekick of Ben Gurion'. But even then he was a visionary. When Israel failed in establishing a bicycle industry he dreamed of and brought in aerospace programme to the nation. He toiled for making Israel the promised land of technologies of all sorts that it is today.
There may be a vast section of Israelis who may disagree with his attempts at peace even when the enemies with whom he talked wanted the annihilation of Israel. But when one sees the iron dome take on the rockets fired from Gaza, one cannot but remember with gratitude the man who gave Israel the technological vision and will that made the iron dome a reality. And sure there will be people who may say that the rockets would not have been fired in the first place had he not talked peace with those who wanted to destroy Israel. But the larger point here is this. Here was a man who dreamed the impossible; of making Israel an oasis of high-end technology, which would also be people's technology, and made it a reality. Here was also a man who talked peace to those who wanted to destroy Israel and thus showed the existential strength of Israel. His peace came from his confidence and inner strength. His was not a romantic pacifism which sold out the nation for a substance-less dream. His was a pacifism for which he had equipped the nation with inner strength and toiled for it all his life.
It was in 1993, when the Pakistan-funded jihad in Kashmir was at its peak, that Peres visited India as foreign minister. That he loved India dearly was obvious. But how much distance he would go to in helping India amazed us all. He saw India essentially as a culture first. He wanted the nation to lead the world as John Perry, a Mumbai-based Jew, remembered in a Facebook group. So it was not surprising that he stood with India on the Kashmir issue. He worked to change US perspective on it. But what swept us off our feet was his observation that India should change the demography of Kashmir. He had suggested that in an official dinner where among others, the then agriculture minister Balram Jakhar of Congress, and then leader of opposition L.K. Advani, were present. Then, he made the official statement that Israel supported 'fully and completely the territorial integrity of India'.
He also warned against another partition. It is interesting to note that a statesman known for his peace efforts and even criticized for the same in Israel essentially held the same premises about India which are considered 'hawkish' by the old media in India. As Shimon Peres rests in peace, India and Israel are cooperating on various fields. From exchanging agricultural technologies to developing together surface-to-air missiles. As Israel sits Shiva (seven days of mourning) for one of its founding fathers, Indians share a grief. In the history of India and Israel, the love Peres held for India, will be always be remembered.
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