Just above the Lion Monument at Tel Hai,
stands Beit Ha'Shomer – at kibbutz Kfar Giladi. It
majestically overlooks the valley below and Mt. Hermon.
Ha'Shomer, which means The Watchman, has often been
referred to as the grandfather of the Israel Defense Forces
(IDF). Beit Ha'Shomer provides a wealth of
information about this elite organization of 108 men and
women that was founded in 1909 in order to provide
Jewish protection to the Jewish settlements. At the
time, this was a novel concept since up until that time
Circassians, Arabs (and Moroccans) were employed as
guards at the various Jewish settlements.
Ha'Shomer's primary leaders were Yitzhak Ben
Zvi (later Israel's second president), Israel Giladi,
Alexander Zeid and Israel Shohat. At Beit Ha'Shomer
which is one of the Ministry of Defense museums there is
an audiovisual program and a room dedicated to the
sculptures of Batia
Lichansky, sister of Rahel Yanait Ben Zvi, (Yitzhak
Ben Zvi's wife).
The early 1900's were hard on the residents
of Eretz Yisrael. The early pioneers were aging young, a
direct result of their continued strenuous labor and
rampant malaria. Many of their children went abroad to
study and never returned – and increasingly they began
employing local Arabs to do more and more of the
physical work, including guard duty.
Many of the settlements were prey to thieves
and attacks by local villagers. The newer immigrants
were critical of the early settlers' use of Arabs as
guards. The people behind Ha'Shomer were active in
Jewish defense in their homelands during the days of the
pogroms and to them a Jewish defense organization was a
Ha'Shomer was preceded by another secret self
defense organization, called Bar-Giora, an organization
established in 1907 in Jaffa, at the home of Yitzhak Ben
Zvi. A month after the new organization was established
they set out to the Sejera Ranch, which became the first
Jewish settlement in the Lower Galilee.
By 1909 Bar-Giora had 26 members, but that
was no longer enough to carry out all the necessary
guard duties of the day, so Ha'Shomer was established on
April 12 1909. It became the legal version of the secret
Ha'Shomer's expressed goal was to transform
Jewish workers into laborers and guardsmen. They wore
special clothes, in order to better blend with the local
environment (see photo). Their base was at the Sejera
Ranch (which today is a Moshav called Ilaniya). The
ranch was located near what at the time, was known as
Mescha, and later became Kfar Tavor.
( National Photo Collection
- please click on the
photo to view a larger sample)
The meeting that founded Ha'Shomer was
supposed to take place in Sejera – on Passover eve,
1909. However that day there was an incident between
some Jewish settlers and the residents of nearby Kfar
Kama, who accosted two settlers on their way to Sejera.
One of the Jewish settlers shot and killed one of the
attackers. As the Jewish holiday descended on the Yishuv
– there was much concern about possible reprisals.
Consequently at the last minute the meeting was
relocated to Mescha.
Zvi Beker, became the first Jewish Watchman
at Sejera. The local Circassians tried each night to get
him to resign, but he resolved to make Jewish protection
of the settlement a reality. With time, small successes
followed and Ha'Shomer began guarding other settlements,
for an annual fee.
Ha'Shomer exacted a price for their guarding
efforts (in addition to the fee). They made it
compulsory for the settlements which they protected to
employ only Jewish laborers, instead of the cheaper Arab
workers which many of the settlements had been
utilizing. The organization functioned until 1920, when
it was disbanded, when the Haganah was formally
Directions: Beit Ha'Shomer is located at
Kibbutz Kfar Giladi. Take Route # 90, drive through
Kiryat Shmona and turn left at the sign for Tel Hai and
Visiting Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8:00 AM –
3:30 PM, Friday and Holiday eves 8:00 AM-12:00 PM
Entry fees: Adults, 10 NIS/pp, Children, 5