I was always fascinated with the struggle of the Jews, the formation of Israel and its emergence into a strong nation though surrounded by hostile neighbours whose avowed mission was to wipe it from the face of the earth and dump it into the Red Sea.
I read much about the Jewish diaspora and their dream to return to their Promised Land. I read O Jerusalem! by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins umpteen times since my college days in Delhi. Exodus by Leon Uris told the story of the Jews trying desperately to enter their homeland despite a British barricade in the last years of the British occupation and partitioning of Palestine in 1947.
Of course, the book 90 Minutes At Entebbe that documented the daring counter-terror hostage-rescue mission carried out by Israeli commandos at Entebbe Airport in Idi Amin’s Uganda on 4 July 1976 is legendary. As PM Narendra Modi and his Israeli counterpart hugged each other last week during the former’s visit to that country, not many know that Operation Entebbe’s unit commander Yonatan Netanyahu, who was killed in the raid, is the older brother of PM Benjamin Netanyahu.
As India’s liberalisation journey was picking up momentum in the early 1990s, India and Israel established diplomatic relations. The magazine I worked for in Delhi had a special feature titled ‘Target’ focusing on a particular country and India’s relations with it mainly on trade and investment.
I became the de facto parent of the feature, and fondly called “Foreign Editor” by my colleagues as I made inroads into most of the embassies and high commissions in the diplomatic enclave of Chanakyapuri. Israel was on my list.
One day a colleague from another magazine in the group came to me and told me sotto voce: “The editor asked me to get ready to go on a junket to Israel next week. I told him I don’t have a clue about international trade, FDI, etc. and if anyone deserves to go, it has to be you. But he simply ordered that I go.”
He returned from Israel with loads of information and interviews which I put together as an anchor and rewrote it into a big feature. Later, I came to know that he was sent to Israel as a carrot to stop him from resigning. I felt the editor could not see me straight in the eye for weeks.
I came closer to Israel once again a decade-and-a-half later while interviewing the Israeli ambassador for my column in a national financial daily. He was impressed with my knowledge of the complex Middle East. Looking back, I find Israel so near, yet so far. But someday I hope to make it there.