As mentioned in a previous ‘postcard’ about Hatzer Kinneret, the nearby Kinneret graveyard is the resting place of many of the founders of Socialist Zionism such as Moshe Hess, Ber Borochov, Nahman Sirkin and Berl Katznelson as well as Rachel the Poetess.
But a wander around this picturesque cemetery at the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee also gives glimpses into the many and varied hardships which confronted the lesser known early pioneers in the Jordan Valley. It seems to have been the custom at the time to note upon headstones both the cause of death and the amount of time since the deceased had arrived in the country.
One row of graves stands out in particular. They are marked, one after another, ‘Anonymous from the refugees of Judea’. A much later memorial at the end of the row tells their story.
During the First World War, on March 28th 1917, the ruling Ottoman authorities ordered the expulsion of the residents of Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Of some 8,000 Jews expelled from their homes, ( just under 10% of the Jewish population of the Yishuv at the time), around 2,000 sought refuge in the Galilee, with 13 families arriving in Kinneret.
Of the 2,000 refugees in the Galilee, 430 died during the harsh winter of 1917/18 – their illnesses complicated in many cases by years of wartime malnutrition. Ten of the deceased were buried in Kinneret graveyard, with headstones added in the early 1950s, but only in 1991 was a list of their names found in the Zionist archives – compiled at the time by an official working with the committee dealing with the refugees.
In all, some 1,500 of the refugees from Tel Aviv and Jaffa died whilst exiled from their homes. In addition, several thousands of Jews who were subjects of ‘enemy states’ (including Russia, France and Britain) had already been expelled in December 1914 (a large number to Alexandria) when Turkey entered the war as Germany’s ally. By the end of World War I, the Jewish population of Palestine was roughly half its pre-war size.