One of the early Zionist heroes was a Russian officer named Joseph Trumpeldor. He had been badly wounded in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904 and one of his arms had to be amputated. In 1906 he was presented the Cross of St. George, Russia’s highest medal for bravery. He was the only Jew to receive that honor.
In 1911 he immigrated to Palestine and settled on Kibbutz Degania. During the First World War he organized the Zion Mule Corps and fought with the British against the Ottoman Turks in the Battle of Gallipoli. The Turks exiled him to Egypt and he returned to Palestine at the end of the war, settling far north in the country at a tiny settlement called Tel Hai. The nearest Jewish settlement was at Kfar Giladi.
Trumpeldor was an ardent Zionist who believed in the struggle to create a Jewish homeland in Palestine. He subscribed to the ideals of Zev Jabotinsky, father of the Revisionist Zionist movement.
On March 1st, 1920, Tel Hai was surrounded by hundreds of Shiite Arabs from neighboring south Lebanon which, at the time, had been under a French mandate.
They demanded that the gates of Tel Hai be opened in order for them to search for any French who might be hiding or seeking refuge in Tel Hai. The Jewish settlers fired a warning shot into the air as a signal for help from neighboring Kfar Giladi.
Faced with warring Arabs, the Jewish settlers opened the gates of Tel Hai and allowed them in to search for alleged Frenchmen. During the search, a battle ensued and Trumpeldor and seven of his comrades were shot. Five Arabs were killed.
Trumpeldor was seriously wounded and his comrades carried him to Kfar Giladi for medical attention. On the way, he died. His Hebrew was very limited and he spoke mainly in Russian but those who were carrying him reported his final words: “En davar. Tov lamut b’ad artzenu”… It doesn’t matter. It is good to die for our country.
A new settlement, Kiriyat Shmoneh, was named for Trumpeldor and the seven other defenders who fell in the Arab attack. Trumpeldor’s last words became a national motto for all the Jewish communities in Palestine. Jabotinsky himself wrote a poem set to music and still sung by Israelis commemorating the heroism of Trumpeldor and his death in 1920. The anniversary of his death is observed every year in Israel on the 11th day of Adar.
“En davar”…. It doesn’t matter, is not the Zionist philosophy by which I have lived my life. Even though I am, as Joseph Trumpeldor was, a revisionist Zionist, I would re-arrange his last words.
“Ken davar. Tov lichyot b’ad artzenu”. It does matter. It is good to live for our motherland.
Rest in peace, Joseph Trumpeldor, soldier, hero and defender. Tel Hai.