This Week in Israeli History: Joseph Trumpeldor and the Battle of Tel Hai

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons
Joseph Trumpeldor was born in Russia in 1880. After hearing news of the First Zionist Congress in 1897, the teenage Trumpeldor became entranced with the Zionist idea and even opened up a local Zionist club.
In 1902 he was drafted to the Russian Army upon the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War. During the fighting Trumpeldor lost his left hand to shrapnel, but still insisted on returning to the front lines, reasoning “but I still have my other arm…” He re-entered the war and fell into Japanese captivity after the Russian Army surrendered at Port Arthur. Upon his release, he received four decorations for bravery, making him the highest decorated Jewish soldier in Russia and the first Jew to receive an officer's commission in the Russian Army.
After the war Trumepldor moved to the Holy Land and worked in agriculture. With the outbreak of World War I, he was expelled by the Ottoman authorities and sought refuge in Egypt where he met Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Together they advocated for the creation of a Jewish unit within the British Army that would assist in liberating the Land of Israel from Turkish rule.
The British were reluctant to accept their proposal and instead formed a transport unit called the Zion Mule Corps that consisted of 650 Jewish soldiers. With Trumpeldor as Deputy Commander, the Zion Mule Corps fought admirably in the Gallipoli Campaign. The Mule Corps’ Commanding Officer, John Henry Patterson, later said of Trumpeldor: "Many of the Zionists whom I thought somewhat lacking in courage showed themselves fearless to a degree when under heavy fire, while Captain Trumpeldor actually revelled in it, and the hotter it became the more he liked it ..."
After the Mule Corps was disbanded, Trumpeldor and Jabotinsky travelled to London and successfully lobbied the British government to form the famed Jewish Legion.
At the conclusion of the war Trumepldor returned to British-ruled Mandatory Palestine and assisted in protecting Jewish settlements from marauding Arabs who would often attack and rob them of their day’s labor. One day Trumepldor received word from the village of Tel Hai requesting for backup due to the deteriorating security situation in the region. He immediately rushed to the village with a handful of others to help protect the villagers.
On March 1, 1920, several hundred Arabs arrived at Tel Hai, demanding to search the fort for fleeing French officers. A verbal dispute broke out and a battle ensued. Joseph Trumpledor was killed in the battle along with seven others. When the doctor arrived and asked Trumpeldor how he was feeling, he said his famous last words that were immortalized within the annals of Israeli history: “Never mind, it is good to die for our country.”
Kiryat Shmona (lit. Town of the Eight), one of the largest cities in northern Israel, is named after Joseph Trumpeldor and the seven mighty fighters that perished defending Tel Hai.