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Ha-Shomer

HA-SHOMER

HA-SHOMER (Heb. הַֹשּׁוֹמֵר, "The Watchman"), association of Jewish watchmen in Ereẓ Israel, which was active between 1909 and 1920. It was founded by pioneers of the Second *Aliyah, many of whom had been active in revolutionary movements and Jewish self-defense in Russia, and were critical of the methods used to protect life and property in the Jewish settlements based upon non-Jewish guards (Bedouin, Circassian, Mughrebim, etc.). Most of them were members or sympathizers of the *Po'alei Zion Party. On the initiative of Israel Shoḥat, about 10 of them, including Izhak *Ben-Zvi and Alexander *Zeid, met in Jaffa in 1907 and founded a secret society called Bar-Giora, which aimed at winning the right to work and keep guard in the settlements and develop Jewish settlement in new areas. It adopted as its watchword a line from Ya'akov *Cahan's poem "Biryonim" ("Zealots"): "Be-dam va-esh Yehudah naflah, be-dam va-esh Yehudah takum" ("By blood and fire Judea fell; by blood and fire Judea shall rise"). The members of Bar-Giora were given responsibility for the protection of Sejera (now Ilaniyyah) in lower Galilee, and, in 1908, of Mesḥa (Kefar Tavor). On the initiative of Bar-Giora a wider organization, called Ha-Shomer, was established in April 1909 at a meeting in Mesha. It was headed by a committee of three: Shoḥat, Israel *Giladi, and Mendel Portugali. Bar-Giora, in effect, merged with the new body. Within three years, Ha-Shomer assumed responsibility for the protection of seven villages, among them Ḥaderah, Reḥovot, and Rishon le-Zion. Other settlements passed also to an all-Jewish guard system. Within a short time the Jews in Ereẓ Israel no longer relied on the protection of foreign consuls and powerful neighbors, but were capable of defending their lives and property. Ha-Shomer based its methods on a close study of the conditions in the country, the ways of the Ottoman authorities, and the character of the Arab bedouin and peasants. The shomerim spoke Arabic, wore a mixture of Arab and Circassian dress, and carried modern weapons; some of them became expert horsemen. In 1914 they numbered about 40, with another 50–60 candidates for membership and temporary auxiliaries; at harvest time, they could deploy some 300 men. Candidates had to undergo a year's trial and take a ceremonial oath after being approved by a two-thirds majority at the annual general meeting. The shomerim, with their picturesque dress and armament, were prominent in the life of the new yishuv and played an important part in settling new and disputed land. They were widely known in the Zionist movement, which supported them. Yizkor, a memorial volume in honor of their casualties, in Hebrew, Yiddish and German, had a great influence after World War i on Diaspora Jewish youth. Ha-Shomer was criticized by some circles, especially the supporters of the *Ha-Po'el ha-Ẓa'ir party, because of its independence and the fear that it might anger the Arabs. On the outbreak of World War i, Ha-Shomer had to go underground, and two of its leaders, Manya and Israel Shoḥat, were exiled in 1915 to Anatolia. Its difficulties were intensified by internecine dissensions, as a result of which a group of members, headed by Israel Giladi, left and founded southwest of Metulah the settlement of Kefar Giladi. In 1916 it started to recover: its members collected and stored arms, and organized the protection of Jewish property. Ha-Shomer opposed the espionage activities of *Nili because it endangered the Jewish community, and decided to execute Yosef *Lishanski, one of the Nili group who had escaped, in case he fell into the hands of the Turkish authorities and betrayed the secrets of the defenders. Lishanski was caught by the Turks, however, and told them all he knew. As a result, 12 shomerim were interrogated in Damascus and four of them imprisoned. During the British campaign in Palestine, members of Ha-Shomer joined the *Jewish Legion, while others joined the mounted police, which kept order in Galilee, and played a prominent part in the defense of *Tel Ḥai and Jerusalem. However, new elements in the yishuv's leadership demanded the reorganization of defense on a broader basis under the discipline of the recognized Jewish authorities, public and political bodies. On the proposal of some of its new members, led by Eliyahu *Golomb and Yiẓḥak *Tabenkin, it was decided that the organization should disband and its members serve as the basis for a new defense system. On June 15, 1920, *Aḥdut ha-Avodah accepted the responsibility for the reorganization of defense, and Ha-Shomer ceased to exist as a separate body. Its members continued, however, to maintain contact and made an important contribution to the yishuv'sdefense and its constructive efforts. Ha-Shomer was the first body in the Zionist movement and the Jewish yishuv which believed that the existence of an organized Jewish armed force would be a decisive factor in the realization of Zionism, and its example was an inspiration to the *Haganah and the pioneering youth movements.

bibliography:

Koveẓ Ha-Shomer (1937), Sefer Ha-Shomer (1957); Dinur, Haganah, 1 pt. 2 (1956), index; Y. Ya'ari-Poleskin, Holemim ve-Lohamim (19643); S. Sheva, Shevet ha-No'azim (1969), passim; Z. Nadav, Mi-Ymei Shemirah ve-Haganah (1955); Y. Allon, The Making of Israel's Army (1970).

[Yehuda Slutsky]

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