by Yael Adar
Tel Hai is located at Israel's very northern tip, between Kiryat Shmona and Metulla, (Israel's northern most town). The fort, which was one of the original four Jewish settlements in the Galilee, overlooks the Hula Valley. If the brave pioneers at the beginning of the last century had not had the fortitude to withstand the hardships of the day, the Galilee as we know it today, would never have become part of modern day Israel. Not that the Jewish people didn't have a history in the area. The tribes of Asher, Naftali and Dan all inhabited this region. During the Second Temple era as well as during the Talmud and Mishna periods there was a thriving Jewish community in the Galilee.
The grayish-black stones from which this fort is built stand out in the Israeli countryside. The red-shingled roof adds an element of quaintness and one gets the feeling of a time-warp – or perhaps that the whole structure belongs in a different, distant place. The land known as Talha was purchased in 1893 by Baron Edmond de Rothschild and in 1896 the first group of farmers from Metulla began to cultivate the fields. The fort of Tel Hai was originally built in 1907, as a residence for these farmers. By 1912 the place was abandoned and it wasn't until 1918 that it was resettled and renamed Tel Hai by settlers from the Galilee Farmers Union.
Tel Hai, Metulla, Hamrah, and Kfar Giladi were the first four Jewish settlements in the Galilee. After the (1916) Sykes-Picot agreement, the British, French and Arab forces were all vying for control of the area. According the secret Sykes-Picot agreement, between France, Britain and Russia – the line which was to separate the French-controlled area from the British-controlled area would have crossed the center of the Galilee. During this time, the Jewish settlements kept a neutral stance and did not voice support for any of the sides.
The British had actually conceded that the Upper Galilee should be under French rule, but the Arabs did not accept this view and at first attacked Metulla and Hamrah, (which were evacuated) and later Tel Hai. The 1919 Dubil Agreement set the border between Rosh Hanikra and Rosh Pina.
Tel Hai did not withstand the ensuing attack. Within the Yishuv there were fierce arguments whether the settlements in the Upper Galilee should be abandoned or not. Interestingly, Zeev Zabotinsky was for abandoning the settlements in the Upper Galilee – while David Ben Gurion voiced the opinion that there was a moral obligation to support and defend any place where Jewish settlers worked the land. The deciding vote was finally cast by Menachem Ussishkin (who was head of the Jewish National Fund for 20 years).
Generations of Israelis have been brought-up on the words which were said to have been uttered by Joseph Trumpeldor (founder of the Zion Mule Corps), as he lay dying, after the battle of Tel
Hai, "Never mind, it is good to die for one's country." To this day, the battle that took place here 82 years ago is marked on the 11th of the month of Adar as a symbol of national heroism.
Trumpeldor is the name most often associated with Tel Hai, but seven others died trying to defend the fort. Nearby Kiryat Shmona is so named, in memory of the eight fighters who died at Tel
As you walk around the fort you'll find information about the battle in the 'battle room. As you enter this room, make sure you go to the right and then work your way to the left (otherwise things can be a bit confusing). There is an audio visual presentation that provides historical background and a collection of old farm implements is on display. From time to time there are even exhibitions by local artists.
A monument to the fighters of Tel Hai, a large stone lion, sits near their graves, just up the road from the fort. This spot also serves as a great lookout point of the surrounding area. A small audio box provides a history of Tel Hai (in various languages) – so it's definitely worth stopping here. The lookout point is just below Beit Ha'Shomer.
Directions: Tel Hai is located off Route # 90. Drive through Kiryat Shmona and turn left at the sign for Tel Hai and Kfar Giladi.
Visiting Hours: Sunday-Thursday 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM, Friday, Holiday eves and school vacations 10:00 AM- 5:00 PM
Entry fees apply:
Note: Those of you, who venture this far north, should also not miss the Tel Hai Museum of Photography. The museum is located on the right side of Route #90 – before the turn-off to the Tel Hai fort.