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Tel Hai Courtyard Museum

The memorial museum at Tel Hai recreates the life that was led in this small, isolated agricultural community, and the events that led to its destruction in March 1920 during a shootout with irregular Arab forces. During this battle, Joseph Trumpeldor was killed. A guided tour is helpful, although with some background knowledge a drop-in visit can be worthwhile. The Battle of Tel Hai and Trumpeldor’s death were important not only because of their immediate consequences, but also because of the mood they 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

A 7-minute movie can be viewed in Hebrew or English. The museum has a display of agricultural tools used by the pioneers. The audio guide presents conversations that illustrate the challenges of living at Tel Hai in that period. These includes a debate as to whether the settlers should engage in cultural activities. Also, a discussion of the idealism of Joseph Trumpeldor in relation to the difficult conditions in which they were living. The 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 who came from its northern neighbor 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.


Some background. Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, the area of Tel Hai 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 the future spheres of influence of these two countries after the First World War. However, the Arabs felt betrayed 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. However, 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 costs of defending them were too high. In the end, no decision was made and the settlers were left to fend for themselves.


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 demanded that they be allowed to search the compound for French soldiers. Their request was granted. One of the Jewish farmers shot into the air to warn nearby Kfar Giladi what was happening. 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 seriously wounded and was eventually evacuated to Kfar Giladi but died on the journey. 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).


The Hashemite loyalists were eventually defeated at the Battle of Maysalun in July 1920. Because of the presence of 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 hoped for, as the British mandate was considered an initial first stage in achieving statehood. The British Peel Commission recommended partition of Palestine and including Tel Hai and its surroundings as part of the Jewish state. This was also the recommendation of the UN Partition Plan.


A monument in the form of a statue of a defiant lion was constructed in the cemetery at Tel Hai to memorialize the death of Tel Hai's defenders, although it is not directly above Trumpeldor’s grave. A city was also built a few miles south of Tel Hai in Trumpeldor’s memory that was called Kiryat Yosef, or the City of Joseph. A year later it was renamed Kiryat Shmona or the City of Eight, in memory of all those who had died at Tel Hai.


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 constructed.

Joseph Trumpeldor  – a hero in life and at death


Joseph Trumpeldor (1880-1920) led a heroic life as a Russian and later as a Jewish immigrant to Palestine. In Palestine he displayed many of the values held dear by the Jews of the Second Aliyah, including Jewish settlement, working the land and Jewish self-defense.


Trumpeldor was born in the North Caucasus of the Russian Empire. His father Wolf Trumpeldor had been forced into the Russian army as a 13-year-old boy and he served for a quarter of a century as part of the canton system for the Russification of Russia’s minorities, particular its Jews. Following his discharge, Wof was allowed to live outside the Pale of Settlement as a “useful Jew.” His home was assimilated Russian, although it identified strongly as Jewish. In his teens, Joseph was drawn to the Zionism of Theodor Herzl and he organized a Zionist group for the small number of Jews in his town.


Joseph was conscripted into the Russian army during Russia’s war with Japan, and during the Russo-Japanese War lost his left arm to shrapnel. After 100 days of hospitalization he insisted on completing his service but was promptly taken prisoner. He was in a POW camp for one year and organized Jewish activities there. On his release following the surrendering of the Russians, he was decorated for bravery by the tsarina and gifted a prosthetic arm.


In 1912 he became part of the large movement of Jews out of Russia (primarily to the United States), and immigrated to Palestine where he joined Degania by Lake Kinneret. However, as a Russian citizen he was deported by the Turks to Egypt during the First World War and befriended Vladimir Jabotinsky there. The two of them attempted to persuade the British in Egypt to form a Jewish military unit to help oust the Turks from Palestine, but the British would only agree to a Jewish transport unit, the Zion Mule Corps, and this fought in the British attempt to penetrate Turkish lines at the Battle of Gallipoli. This unit was disbanded following the defeat of the British in this campaign. However, the British finally acceded to the lobbying of Jabotinsky and Trumpeldor and formed a five-battalion Jewish Legion which fought in Palestine.


After the First World War, Trumpeldor returned as a civilian to Palestine and found the Zionist movement absorbed in infighting between its leaders. Trumpeldor took it upon himself to resolve these personal disputes so that the Zionist movement could become functional to face the many challenges that were a consequence of the recent Balfour Declaration and its intent to form a Jewish state.  


Because of his military experience, Trumpeldor became a key commander in the defense organization HaShomer (the Watchman) and he was sent by them to organize the defense of Kfar Giladi.


HaShomer was formed in 1909 by Socialist Zionists to protect Jewish settlements against Arab gangs and Bedouin tribes. Its predecessor was a defense organization called Bar Giora formed two years earlier to provide protection to a few specific settlements. However, its members decided to disband Bar Giora 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.


HaShomer was the forerunner of the Haganah, which as it became larger encompassed almost all the youths and adults in the Jewish settlements. The Haganah would in turn evolve into the Jewish Defense Forces.


Following his death and because of his unifying activities, Trumpeldor became a national hero and symbol of Jewish self-defense against tremendous odds for both the right-wing and left-wing of Jewish Palestinian politics.


The right-wing Revisionist Zionist youth movement (the precursor to Likud) under Jabotinsky named its youth movement Betar, an acronym for "Covenant of Joseph Trumpeldor." The city of Beitar was the last place to fall during the Bar Kochba Revolt against Rome. The left-wing 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. 


His activities on behalf of Jewish self-defense were very 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. The Arabs would soon organize riots throughout the country under the leadership of Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem.


Jewish settlement was then a priority for the Zionist movement and the kibbutz movement comprised the cream of this settlement. Nowadays, settlement has lost much of its luster except among a certain sector of the population. The words settlement and settlers have even received a slightly negative connotation as they relate to Judea and Samaria, primarily as a result of foreign pressure, but also a result of an apologetic attitude among left-wing Israelis and the feeling that the Palestinians have been wronged and some recompense is due to them. Above right-wing and left-wing politics, it is unlikely that Joseph Trumpeldor would ever have agreed with this.

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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