by Yael Adar
This is no ordinary building; it is a fortress, replete with moat. From the time of the Crusades until the beginning of the State – this building was virtually impenetrable. Built on the ruins of the Crusader period Citadel by Dahr-el-Omar, it was later re-built by Ahmad Pasha Al Jazzar in the second half of the 18th century. The British, (who conquered the city on September 22,1918), converted it to serve as the main prison in Palestine during the British Mandate and therein lies much of its modern-day importance.
The country’s largest prison outbreak took place there on May 4, 1947 when Etzel fighters freed 41 of their own. This is also the place where nine underground members (see list below) were sentenced to death and executed in the prison gallows by order of the crown. The room where they were hanged serves as a memorial.
While today the building is one of the Ministry of Defense Museums* and serves as a Museum of the Underground Prisoners, Jews were not the only ones who were detained, or executed there. The prison held an assortment of prisoners including common criminals, ‘illegal’ immigrants and political prisoners. The most well known political prisoners held here were Ze'ev Jabotinsky and the Baha'U’llah, founder of the Bahai faith (see, The Shrine of the Baha' U’ llah).
This fortress is neither a beautiful place nor one that imparts a pleasant atmosphere; in fact, quite the opposite is true. The building is nothing short of oppressive. Repression literally emanates from the walls. Visiting the former prison one cannot escape the feeling that this must have been a very terrible place for those who were incarcerated here.
The Museum of the Underground Prisoners is immense. The ceilings here are high and often vaulted and the walls are extremely thick. As you walk through this building, in addition to the gallows you will be able to see prisoners’ cells, telltale signs of the famous outbreak the prison yard and much more. Be advised that touring this site requires climbing a fair number of stairs.
Frequented by schoolchildren due to its historical significance, this is one of those sites that unfortunately are often overlooked by adult tourists. Much of the fortress is currently closed off, due to an ongoing excavation project. However, enough of the building is still accessible so that one can aptly get a sense of what life inside this imposing structure must have been like for prisoners.
The nine Jewish underground members who were sentenced to death and executed in the prison gallows (referred to in Hebrew as Olei Ha’gardom) were: Shlomo Ben Yosef, Mordechai Shwartz, Dov Gruner, Yehiel Dov Drezner, Eliezer Kashani, Mordechai Alkachi, Meir Nakor, Avshalom Haviv and Ya’akov Weiss.
Directions: The museum is located on Haganah Street, just up the road from the lighthouse.
TEL 04/9918-264, 04/9918-265, 04/9918-266
Visiting Hours: Sunday – Thursday 9:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Friday, 9:00 AM - 1:00 PM.
Entry fees apply:
Note: A previous Ministry of Defense Museum, the David HaCohen Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum is featured in the Haifa section of this Website.