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Tel Hai Courtyard Museum

The memorial museum at Tel Hai recreates what life was like in this small, isolated agricultural community, and the events that led to its destruction and the death of Joseph Trumpeldor in March 1920 during a shootout with irregular Arab forces. A guided tour is useful. However, the museum is open all day and with some background knowledge a drop-in visit can be worthwhile. The Battle of Tel Hai was important not only because of its immediate consequences, but also because of the mood it created in the country at that time.



Directions: Enter into Waze “Tel Hai Museum".

Admission: The site is open for individual visits from 9.00 a.m. to 3.00 p.m. There is an audio guide. The movie shown can be seen in English, and this should be requested at the office, although it may be difficult to coordinate this if there are multiple Israeli groups. There are tours in Hebrew at 10.00 a.m., 12.00 p.m. and 2.00 p.m. An English tour can be requested with advanced notice. There is an admission charge. There is an outside shaded area with picnic benches. Their phone number is 04-695 1333.   This is their website.

Public transport: Enter "Tel Hai Museum" into Moovit. There are frequent buses from Kiryat Shmona that stop close to the museum and a somewhat less frequent bus service between Katzrin and Ein Qinya.

The compound at Tel Hai

There is a 7-minute movie in Hebrew or English. The museum contains a display of agricultural tools used by the pioneers. The audio guide presents conversations that illustrate the challenges of living here and a debate, for example, as to whether the settlers should engage in cultural activities. Also about the idealism of Joseph Trumpeldor in relation to the difficult conditions in which they were living. A living room constitutes a memorial to the six men and two women who died here.

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The Battle of Tel Hai


Tel Hai was set up in 1905 as a small agricultural courtyard for six workers from its northern neighbor of El Metullah, (which would become the city of Metulla). It was one of four small isolated Jewish settlements in the northern part of the Hula Valley, the others being Metulla, Hamrah and Kfar Giladi.


The confrontation at Tel Hai, to which this museum/memorial is dedicated, took place in March 1920 during the Franco-Syrian War.


First, some background. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, this area became part of the French Mandate of Syria as had been agreed upon by the Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and the United Kingdom. This initially secret agreement was intended to define their future spheres of influence after the war. However, the Arabs felt betrayed by this as they had been promised independence, and a Franco-Syrian War broke out in early 1920 between France and Syrian Arab nationalists led by the Hashemite king. The Jewish settlements were neutral in the dispute. Nevertheless, because Tel Hai was a border outpost it was difficult for it not to get dragged into this conflict.


The Zionist organization was divided as to what to do with the isolated settlements in this area. Leaders such as Ben Gurion advocated that they should hold out at all costs because of their location by the headwaters of the Jordan River. Other leaders, such as Jabotinsky, argued that the settlers were in an untenable situation and that the economic costs were too high. In turned out, however, that the Hashemite loyalists were defeated at the Battle of Maysalun in July 1920. Because of the presence of these Jewish settlements, it was agreed upon by Britain and France that this border area would become part of Mandatory Palestine rather than be controlled by France. This is exactly what the Zionists intended, as the British mandate was considered an initial first stage in achieving statehood.

We now need to backtrack some years to the formation of the defense organization HaShomer, (the Watchman) and the role of Joseph Trumpeldor. This organization was formed in 1909 by Socialist Zionists to protect against Arab gangs and Bedouin tribes. Its predecessor was a defense organization called Bar Giora formed two years earlier to protect specific settlements. However, its members decided to disband to form an organization that would provide protection to the entire Yishuv. Until the formation of HaShomer, settlements had often relied upon Arabs as watchmen, basically as a form of protection money.

HaShomer never numbered more than 100 members. All were armed, although they tried to avoid armed conflict whenever possible. They dressed in local garb and used horses for rapid mobility. HaShomer also established a number of their own settlements, and this included Tel Hai, Tel Adash and Kfar Giladi.


Because of his military experience, Joseph Trumpeldor was a key commander in HaShomer. He had been a valiant officer in the Russian army. During the Russo-Japanese War he lost his left arm to shrapnel, but on his recovery decided to complete his service. Following his release from Japanese captivity as a consequence of the Russian surrender, he joined a group that immigrated to Palestine. During the First World War he joined the British Jewish Legion and fought in the Battle of Gallipoli with the Zion Mule Corps, which he helped organize. He was sent by HaShomer to organize the defense of Kfar Giladi.


The Battle of Tel Hai was a confusing conflict since neither of the two parties involved intended for there to be any shooting. It is not even clear who started it, and the person who did was probably unaware that it could have been avoided. The movie shown here is about this battle, and it cannot be blamed for also being confusing!

The story is as follows. In March 1920, hundreds of local Shi’ite Arabs marched to Tel Hai and they demanded that they be allowed to search the compound for French soldiers. Their request was granted. One of the farmers also shot into the air as a warning to Kfar Giladi, and they sent ten men led by Joseph Trumpeldor. This party attempted to persuade the Arabs to disperse. However, a firefight ensued. The defenders fought valiantly but Trumpeldor and seven others were killed. Trumpeldor was evacuated to Kfar Giladi, but died several hours later. Tel Hai was evacuated and burnt to the ground, although whether this was done by the Arabs or happened unintentionally is unclear.


There were a number of sequelae from this episode. It was attested by the physician that accompanied him that Trumpeldor's last words were “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.” (A less accepted version is that Trumpeldor, who only spoke broken Hebrew, uttered a Russian curse on his bad luck). Trumpeldor became a national hero of both the right and left and a symbol of Jewish self-defense against tremendous odds. This was relevant at this time, since although neither side was then aware of it this battle was the beginning of Jewish Arab armed conflict in Palestine. Some years later the Arabs would organize riots throughout the country.

The Revisionist Zionist youth movement (the precursor to Likud) named its youth movement Betar, an acronym for "Covenant of Joseph Trumpeldor." The city of Beitar was also the last place to fall during the Great Revolt against Rome. The left-wing, on the other hand, remembers him as the defender of kibbutzim. The Gdud HaAvoda, the Joseph Trumpeldor Work and Defense Battalion, was founded in the year he died and its members established several kibbutzim. 


A monument in the form of a statue of a defiant lion was constructed to memorialize the death of Tel Hai's eight defendants. The city of Kiryat Shmona (the Town of the Eight) was also named after them.


HaShomer disbanded in 1920 and the Haganah was formed to deal with the large defense challenges faced by the Jewish communities in Palestine. This would become the nucleus of the Israel Defense Forces during the 1948 War of Independence.


Tel Hai was resettled in 1921, but was not large enough to become independent and it was absorbed by Kibbutz Giladi. Its courtyard was restored in 2008 and a Visitor Center was also constructed.

Agricultural implements at Tel Haieg

Display of agricultural implements that would have been used here.

Links to the HOME PAGE and best family activities, hikes and historic sites in the GOLAN, EASTERN GALILEE, UPPER GALILEE, LOWER GALILEE, JORDAN VALLEY & LAKE KINNERET, the SHEFELAH, TEL AVIV-YAFFO and surroundings, NORTH of TEL AVIV, and SOUTH of TEL AVIV.

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