The Jewish "Watchmen" in uniform with adopted local dress of Beduin, Druze and Circassian.

Modern technology works miracles and within the solid stone walls of Beit HaShomer, which stands high above the Hula valley with its dramatic backdrop of the surrounding Naphtali Hills and Mount Hermon, one enters the days of the early 20th century. Days of hardship and trial for those pioneers who strove to bring Jewish life back to its roots on the lands surrounding this ancient rift valley. Today the Museum of Beit HaShomer – the House of the Watchman – transports the visitor into its history through the use of original photographs and film excerpts showing the determination and daring of 'HaShomrim'. One moves along the winding paved paths that circulate within the building and as each screening comes into view a voice continues with the story.

Life in those early settlements was not easy – there were continual raids and theft of animals and machinery by surrounding Bedouin and Arab tribes and yet they had to use these neighbors for additional labor and even as guards. The year 1904 saw the beginning of the Second Aliya. These immigrants were primarily idealists, inspired by the revolutionary ideals then sweeping the Russian Empire; the majority were single and they especially sought to create a communal agricultural settlement system which lead to the setting up of the first kibbutzim. Their determination was intensified by the fact that back in Europe they had been active in the defense of the Jewish population during the days of the pogroms. To them it was only natural that a Jewish defense system be created.

In 1907 the seeds of such a force had been planted at the home of Yitzchak Ben Zvi in Jaffa. They were known as 'Bar Giora', named after the zealot who headed the defense of Jerusalem in the Great Revolt against Rome. But this was just a handful of some twelve members who eventually found it impossible to fulfill all the needs of protection in the farming communities. On April 12, 1909 HaShomer was officially established and their main goal was to work the land and to guard the settlers and in so doing be entirely independent. There are photographs of these young fighters dressed in Arab and Bedouin robes and one can sense their resolve as it emanates from the images. 

By 1916 the movement had grown and they found the transient life style they had adopted impossible to manage as they married and had families. It was time to put down their own roots and they choose to establish a kibbutz of their own which they did in the village of Bar Giora. Shortly after, Israel Giladi, one of their primary leaders died and the name was changed to Kfar Giladi where Beit HaShomer stands. They brought with them the young wives and children of those who had fallen in those early days and cared for them – the basis of today's approach in the Israel Defense Forces that it was always necessary to take care of one's own. The first rule of their Code, the original of which can be seen on the wall, was that you must come to the aid of a comrade in arms, no matter what the danger to yourself. And so it is today.  

In 1920 the organization was disbanded and replaced by the Haganah, the basis of today's Israel Defense Forces. Their daring, bravery and determination, the special spirit that was the basis of the formation of a Jewish State comes alive as one wends one's way past the life-sized photographs, watches the old film extracts and listens to their words that are read aloud from letters and documents. One cannot help but be proud of what was done. I recommend a visit to Beit HaShomer at Kfar Giladi; also recommended is the Fort at Tel Hai – more history of the brave stand of those early settlers.

Since moving to live here in the Upper Galilee I find that the past is brought back into our souls by exploring the region, enjoying the walks that the Nature Authority has developed to archeological sites of biblical days and before. To see the influx of birds that have come to winter in the Hula and to sample the excellent wines produced by the wineries that abound from the Naphtali Hills to the Golan Heights is a joy not to be missed. Small, charming zimmers dot the entire area and you can even sample ice skating, swimming and a good massage for aching muscles in the Canada Center at Metulla.

Beit HaShomer is open Sundays – Thursdays from 08.00 – 16.00

Visits may be arranged for groups by appointment on Fridays.

Tel: 04 694 1565: Email: hashomer_museum@mailto.mod.gov.il              

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