Tel Hai Courtyard Museum

As for many of the memorial museums in Israel, showing up at Tel Hai without any background as to what the place is all about limits considerably what one can take away from a visit. The movie that they show, for example, is quite dramatic, but provides no information as to what the two sides are fighting about. This is why this site is mainly appropriate for a guided tour (which they do). However, the site is open all day and with some information, a visit to Tel Hai can be worthwhile. The Battle of Tel Hai is important not only for what happened but on the mood it created in Israel.

VISITING THE MUSEUM

 

Directions: Enter into Waze “Tel Hai Museum.”

Admission: The site is open during the day for individual visitors from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm. A program on one’s phone or use of a phone from the museum is provided with a description of the stops you can make in the courtyard. The movie can be seen in English and this can be requested at the office. There are tours in Hebrew at 10.00 am, 12.00 pm and 2.00 pm. An English tour can also be requested. There is an admission charge. Their phone number is 04-695 1333.

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There is a 7-minute movie in Hebrew. Agricultural tools used by the pioneers are shown. There is an exhibit about Tel Hai and the other settlements. A small room is a memorial to the 6 men and two women killed here. There is also a floor dedicated to Joseph Trumpeldor.

The Battle of Tel Hai

Tel Hai was set up in 1905 as a small agricultural courtyard for six workers from the more northern colony 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 in the Upper Galilee, the others being Metulla, Hamrah and Kfar Giladi.

 

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, this area became part of the French Mandate of Syria, as agreed upon at the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between France and the United Kingdom that defined their future spheres of influence. The Arabs, however, felt betrayed by this as they had been promised independence, and a Franco-Syrian War broke out in early 1920 between Syrian Arab nationalists under the Hashemite king and France. Tel Hai found itself as a border outpost, although the Jewish settlements remained neutral in this dispute. The Zionist organization was divided about what to do with these isolated settlements. Some advocated that they should hold out at all costs because of their valuable location by the headwaters of the Jordan River, while others argued they were in an untenable situation. In the end, the Hashemite loyalists were defeated in July 1920 at the Battle of Maysalun, and because of the presence of these Jewish settlements it was agreed that this border area would be part of Mandatory Palestine. This is exactly what the Zionists intended as they considered the British mandate to be the first stage in achieving statehood. The confrontation at Tel Hai in in March 1920 took place during the Franco-Syrian War.

 

We now need to backtrack some years to the formation of the defense organization HaShomer, the Watchman, and the role of Joseph Trumpeldor. HaShomer was formed by Socialist Zionists in 1909. Its predecessor was a local defense organization called Bar Giora formed two years earlier, but this decided to disband to form an organization that would take upon itself the job of providing protection to the entire Yishuv. Until this time, settlements had often relied upon Arabs as watchmen as basically a form of protection money. Hashomer never numbered more than 100 members. They were all 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, including Tel Hai, Tel Adash and Kfar Giladi.

 

Joseph Trumpeldor was a valiant Russian who had been an officer in the Russian army. During the Russo-Japanese War he lost his left arm to shrapnel but following his recovery decided to complete his service. Following release from Japanese captivity when the Russians surrendered, he would eventually join 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 had helped organize. As an experienced military person, he was sent by HaShomer to organize the defense of Kfar Giladi.

 

The Battle of Tel Hai was a confusing conflict since no one intended for there to be shooting, and it is not even clear who started it. It is possible that whoever did start was unaware that it could probably have been avoided.

 

In March 1920 hundreds of local Shiite 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 farmers also shot into the air as a warning to Kfar Giladi, and they sent ten men led by Joseph Trumpledor. They attempted to persuade the Arabs to disperse. However, a firefight ensued and Trumpledor and six others were killed. Trumpledor was evacuated to Kfar Giladi but died several hours later. Tel Hai was evacuated and the Arabs burnt it to the ground.

 

There were a number of sequels from this episode. It was reported by the physician that accompanied him that Trumpeldor's last words were “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.” The result of his death was that Trumpeldor became a national hero of both the right  and left, and a symbol of Jewish self-defense against tremendous odds. This was germane at this time, since although neither side was aware of it, or even intended it, this battle marked the beginning of Jewish Arab armed conflict in Palestine.

The Revisionist Zionist youth movement (the precursor to Likud) named its youth movement Betar, an acronym for "Covenant of Joseph Trumpeldor." The left-wing remember him as the defender of kibbutzim. The Gdud HaAvoda, the Jospeh Trumpeldor Work and Defense Battalion, was founded in the year he died and they established several kibbutzim. 

 

A monument in the form of a statue of a defiant lion was constructed to memorialize the death of the eight defendants. The city of Kiryat Shemona, the Town of the Eight, was also named after them.

 

HaShomer would disband in 1920 and the Haganah was formed to deal with the large defense challenges of the Jewish communities in Palestine. The Haganah 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. In 2008 the courtyard was restored and a Visitor Center constructed at the site.