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Joseph Trupeldor

Born December 1, 1880, Died March 1, 1920

Tel Hai, an isolated little Jewish settlement located in the northern-most point of Palestine, close to the Syrian border, saw the fall of Captain Joseph Trumpeldor in a battle against an Arab horde. Today the words, "Tel Hai," serve as the password and salutation of Brit-Trumpeldor, Betar, to impress on the Jewish mind determination to fight for our rights in the land of Israel.

He was a Jew. Of his own accord in his early youth, he came to the conclusion that our place was in the Land of Israel and that Jewish youth must prepare itself and fight for that goal.

He was also a Russian subject, and when the Russo-Japanese War broke out, he volunteered for service as a private in the Russian Army. When asked how he reconciled this action with his opposition to the persecution of Jews in Russia, Trumpeldor explained that he felt obliged to fulfill his obligations as a citizen despite the sins of the Russian Government and that, what was even more important, he wanted to prove by his action that the charge of Jewish cowardice was false.

This he proved to the hilt. During the defense of Port Arthur he volunteered for service in the Shock Troops which bore the brunt of Japanese attacks. In the battle on Ugloway Hill a shrapnel splinter shattered his left arm which had to be amputated above the elbow. After his wound was healed, he wrote his company commander: "I have only one hand left but it is the right one. I wish you would let me carry a sword or a revolver." His wish was granted and he was made a non-commissioned officer. He displayed such outstanding heroism in action that he received all four of the highest decorations for bravery, the only Jew in the Russian Empire to be so honored. He was taken prisoner when Port Arthur surrendered and spent a year in a Japanese prison.

Returning from imprisonment Trumpeldor began to work on his project -- preparation of Halutzim (pioneers) for the land of Israel. In the autumn of 1912, he went to Palestine and began to put his plan into operation. However, he did not have much time for this work. He was among the first Jews to be deported by the Turkish government immediately after the outbreak of the World War. In Alexandria, where the refugees were stranded, he met Ze'ev Jabotinsky and began a new chapter in his life.

Jabotinsky had just proposed the formation of a Jewish Legion to fight with the Allies for Palestine. Trumpeldor grasped the meaning and the importance of the Legion immediately and plunged wholeheartedly into the task of creating it. When the first recruits for the Legion were gathered, the formation of a Zion Mule Corps was proposed, which would serve the English forces at Gallipoli. Trumpeldor declared that it made no difference where the Turks would be defeated or on what part of the great front the Legion would fight. He led the Jewish soldiers into the thick of the battle under the command of the great Colonel Patterson.

When the Gallipoli adventure was abandoned, the Zion Mule Corps was disbanded. Trumpeldor returned to Russia with the intention of creating there a vast Jewish Army which would join Jabotinsky's newly-formed genuine Jewish Legion in Eretz Israel and thus secure the land for the Jews. While he was in Russia, however, the Revolution broke out and nothing could be done in the ensuing chaos. Everywhere Jews were in danger of pogroms, and Trumpeldor organized a self-defense unit in Petrograd which assured the safety of the Jewish population there. Then he returned to Palestine.

Meanwhile the question arose as to just where the boundary line was between Syria and Palestine. Three small Jewish settlements, Metulla, Tel Hai, and Ayelet Hashachar lay in the disputed region from which both the French and the British troops withdrew until the matter was decided. The Arabs decided to take advantage of the situation by attacking these colonies. On the last day of 1919, Metulla was almost entirely destroyed and the villages of Kefar Giladi and Tel Hai were attacked. The Jewish settlers decided to withdraw from these exposed places. It was then that Trumpeldor, realizing the importance of retaining that region as part of Eretz Israel, organized a group of volunteers, consisting of thirty-five men and two women, and set out to hold Tel Hai against Arab attacks.

On the morning of the 11th of Adar, March 1, 1920, a band of several hundred Arabs made its first attack. It was beaten off. The band left but soon returned with reinforcements. Again they were repelled. This time Trumpeldor was severely wounded. When he saw that a third attack by a force of more than two thousand Bedouins was imminent, he refused to allow his men to carry him indoors but remained to direct the defense of the settlement. The Arabs approached under a white flag and a sheik of the neighborhood asked to speak to Trumpeldor. When the latter appeared, there was a rifle volley and the Arabs turned their horses and fled. Trumpeldor fell, pierced through the abdomen.

That night he spoke to his sorrowing companions as they stood around the death bed. "En davar," (it doesn't matter), he said to still their grief; "it is good to die for our country."


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