Tel Hai Courtyard Museum
As for many of the memorial museums in Israel, turning up at Tel Hai without any background as to what it commemorates limits what you can take away from it. The movie shown, for example, is quite dramatic, but provides no information as to what the two sides were fighting about! This is why a guided tour can be very helpful (and this can be provided). Nevertheless, the museum is open all day and with the necessary background information a visit to Tel Hai can be very 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.
VISITING THE MUSEUM
Directions: Enter into Waze “Tel Hai Museum.”
Admission: The site is open for individual visitors from 9.00 am to 3.00 pm. You can use a program on your phone that describes the stops in the courtyard or use a phone from the museum. 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. This is a website.
Public transport: Enter "Tel Hai Museum" into Moovit. There are frequent buses from Kiryat Shemona that stop close to the museum. Also, a somewhat less frequent bus service between Katzrin and Ein Qinya.
There is a 7-minute movie in Hebrew or English. There is a display of agricultural tools used by the pioneers. Also, an exhibit about Tel Hai and the other area settlements. A small room constitutes a memorial to the six men and two women who died 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. The confrontation at Tel Hai, to which this museum/memorial is dedicated, took place in March 1920 during the Franco-Syrian War.
Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in World War 1, this area became part of the French Mandate of Syria as 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. However, the Arabs felt betrayed by this agreement 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 in this conflict, although the Jewish settlements were neutral in the dispute.
The Zionist organization had been divided about what to do with the isolated settlements in this area. Some advocated that they should hold out at all costs because of their location by the headwaters of the Jordan River. Others argued that 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 become part of Mandatory Palestine rather than be controlled by France. This is exactly what the Zionists intended, as they considered the British mandate to be the 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. HaShomer was formed by Socialist Zionists in 1909. Its predecessor was a local defense organization called Bar Giora that had been formed two years earlier. However, its members 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, basically as 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 his release from Japanese captivity when the Russians surrendered, he eventually 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 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 neither party intended for there to be any shooting, and it is not even clear who started it. Moreover, whoever did start shooting was probably unaware that it could 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 Trumpeldor. This party attempted to persuade the Arabs to disperse. However, a firefight ensued and Trumpeldor and seven others were killed. Trumpeldor 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 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 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 in the form of Arab riots.
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 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 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.