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Jewish Defense Organizations: Hashomer

The Hashomer (Guild of Watchman) was established in 1909 as a self-defense organization by members of the second wave of immigration to Eretz Israel. The founders had experienced pogroms in Russia and were determined that in Eretz Israel Jews would be more effective in defending themselves. The group, originally known as Bar Giora, was organized in the settlement of Sejera in the Lower Galilee and offered its services to other Jewish villages in return for an annual fee. The central characters were Yitzhak Ben Zvi, Israel Giladi, Alexander Zeid and Israel Shohat. Hashomer gradually took over guard duties in the Galilee, Samaria and Judea. When the Jewish National Fund bought lands in the Jezreel Valley, it was decided to employ members of Hashomer to protect the territory from possible encroachment by neighboring Arabs.

Members of the Hashomer saw themselves as the nucleus of a future Jewish army, however, at no time did the organization expand beyond one hundred members. In time the economic base of the organization was considered too weak, and it was decided that their members should be settled on the land. The first such settlement was Tel Adashim, established in 1913, which was followed by Kfar Giladi in 1916, and, two years later, by Tel Hai. The organization was formally disbanded after the establishment of the Haganah in 1920.

According to historian Benny Morris, “Anti-Jewish violence became endemic, with Jewish settlement guards – who were seen as symbols of the Zionist enterprise – regularly dying at the hands of Arab ambushers between 1911 and 1913. In April 1914, the British consul in Jerusalem reported, ‘The assaults upon Jews in the outlying districts are increasingly frequent.’”

Sources: The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, The Jewish Agency for Israel, (c) 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, Director: Dr. Motti Friedman, Webmaster: Esther Carciente
Haganah Museum;
Benny Morris, “The War on History,” Jewish Review of Books, (Spring 2020).