David Lawrence-Young – Alexander Zeid (1886-1938)
Looking at the disreputable bunch in this first picture, you would find it hard to believe that they are the forerunners of the modern Israeli army, Z’va Hagana Le’israel. The five armed men (soldiers doesn’t sound like the correct description) were part of the first Jewish watchmen’s organization – the secret “Bar Giora.” This organization was founded in northern Palestine in 1907 and one of its key members was Alexander Zeid, a Siberian born Jew who had made Aliya in 1904. Five years later he became one of the founding members of “Hashomer,” a larger Jewish self-defence organization whose main aim was to safeguard the early kibbutzim and other Jewish agricultural settlements which were dotted around the country.
Zeid and his wife, Zipporah, were not only involved in Jewish self-defence, but they also were two of the founders of Kibbutz Kfar Giladi in the far north of the country near the Lebanese border. In 1926, this proto-army merged with the larger Haganah defence organization which was supported by Ben-Gurion. Although Zeid was for this amalgamation, his kibbutz was not and so he and his wife and four children were forced to leave causing him to move to Sheikh Abreik in the norther Jezreel Valley.
He continued to work as a watchman with the JNF and survived several Arab ambushes. While on one of his patrols around the country he discovered a break in in a wall of one of the local caves. He knew that this area was interesting archaeologically but this had never been followed up. The cave he explored led to another one which was decorated with ancient inscriptions. Many years later, this area was excavated and today forms part of the Bet She’arim National Park. Despite Zeid’s expertise as an armed watchman, he was ambushed by an Arab gang and killed on July 11, 1938.
Today his name and reputation are immortalized through two settlements: Givat Zeid and the agricultural community, Bet Zeid. If you go to the latter, you will find a dramatic statue of him (by David Polus) high upon a hill. Sitting on a horse, his rifle in front of him crosswise on the saddle he looks out over the Jezreel valley – a valley he loved and guarded for many years.
Tip for tourists: Make sure that if you go looking for this statue, check you go to Bet Zeid (at the junction of Routes 75 and 722) and not Bet Zayit, a settlement west of Jerusalem off Route 1 in the Jerusalem Hills.