History, Sacrifice and Remembrance: Caring for Israel’s Heritage Sites

Jewish National Fund is committed to making sure that the history of the land and people of Israel is preserved for today's generation and those to come. Our work enables us to share the real life struggles for Israel’s independence with Israelis and tourists alike. Thanks to JNF's generous donors, more than 150 heritage sites around the country are open to the public, and we continue to identify important sites and work closely to develop them into interesting visiting experiences. 

These heritage sites—some dating back to ancient times, some to Israel’s rebirth during the first Zionist settlement in the 1800’s and others to its 1948 War of Independence—are powerful symbols that inspire our nation and deserve our unwavering attention.
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Ammunition Hill holds great significance in the formation of the modern Jewish State. In the 1930’s, the British built a police academy in north Jerusalem and stored ammunition on the adjacent hill, which came to be known as Ammunition Hill. In the 1948 War of Independence, the Jordanians captured the site and Jewish Jerusalem was split in two. The hill, on high ground, sat at a crossroads and was the centerpiece of defense. Heavily fortified with dozens of trenches terraced into the hill, it was an intimidating obstacle to overcome. It became the historic site of the battle for the reunification of Jerusalem. Early in the morning of June 6, 1967, believing they outnumbered the Jordanians by three to one based on erroneous intelligence, about 150 Israeli paratroopers attacked the hill. In fact, the Jordanians numbered 150. Fierce hand-to-hand combat ensued with stories of personal heroism and sacrifice in abundance. By 8:00 am, the hill was Israel’s but not without sustaining losses—36 were killed, 90 wounded. Seventy-one Jordanians died in the battle. On June 7, 1967, when the words “har habayit beyadenu,” “the Temple Mount is in our hands,” were uttered, a 2,000-year-old dream came true. With the Kotel as the prize, Ammunition Hill was the price.


Jewish National Fund, along with the Municipality of Jerusalem and the Government of Israel, is assisting in the development and renovation of the Ammunition Hill Memorial site. The restored site portrays the siege of Jerusalem in the ‘67 War and serves as an educational center of the battles waged there. Renovations include a series of interactive exhibits, informational stations, the reconstruction of the hill and trenches and a teen leadership program. Ammunition Hill creates an emotional and informational experience for all those visiting the site and the new projects will preserve the relevance of the site for years to come and will bring larger audiences to Ammunition Hill from Israel and abroad. The brand new Ammunition Hill Museum takes visitors back through time and helps them understand the importance of this Historical Site. Divided into three sections, the first focuses on pre-1967 life in Jerusalem, while the second concentrates on the Battle for Jerusalem and the overall campaign to reunify the city. The third is about life post Six-Day War in the newly liberated and unified capital.


Ammunition Hill is also the home of the official Israel state ceremony each year that marks Yom Ha'atzmaut. Nearby, the The Wall of Honor at Ammunition Hill serves as a tribute to the heroism and courage of Jewish soldiers who, throughout our history, have fought in defense of the countries in which they lived. Proceeds from the wall benefit the development and renovation of the museum and battle grounds and construction of a computerized data center, library, an archive, exhibition hall, and a center for assemblies and conferences for over 250,000 annual visitors. Veteran dedications include the soldier’s name and country, branch, rank and dates of service.


In 1939, the British issued the “White Paper,” severely limiting the number of Jews permitted to enter Palestine. Nonetheless, hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees attempted to reach the shores of Palestine, but many were intercepted at sea and incarcerated at the Atlit Detention Camp. Located just south of Haifa, Atlit remained active through the end of the British Mandate in 1948. Many of the interred were Holocaust survivors who ended up behind barbed wire once again. In 1945, the Palmach carried out a daring operation, led by a young Yitzhak Rabin and Nahum Sarig, that freed 208 detainees from Atlit. Today, the 25-acre camp serves as a museum that tells the poignant story of a People desperate to start a new life in their homeland. Also on site is a ship that offers an experiential visit simulating a sea voyage demonstrating the hardships endured by the immigrants on their way to the Land of Israel.


Thanks to Jewish National Fund, in early 2017, a C-46 Commando Airplane arrived at the Atlit Detention Camp after a long journey from Alaska. The airplane will serve as an interactive exhibit describing the clandestine immigration by air. The C-46 airplane is the same model as the plane used to bring over 150 Jews from Iraq in 1947. This brave mission, known as "Operation Michaelberg," was led by Shlomo Hillel. 


Located at the Atlit “Illegal” Immigrant Detention Camp is a computerized database and information center that will potentially trace as many as 130,000 “Illegal” Immigrants who came to Palestine from 1934 to 1948. A major part of the database is dedicated to personal documentation. The information about the Ma’apilim (“illegal” immigrants) also includes data regarding all the “Illegal” Immigrant boats, together with their technical specifications, details of purchase, photographs and stories of the supporting personnel and crew that manned them in their hazardous journey to Israel. The system has already gathered some 50,000 personal pages and testimonies which have been processed and recorded. 

AYALON INSTITUTE: The Secret Bullet Factory

Next to the Rehovot Science Park, on Kibbutz Hill, stands the Ayalon Institute, which tells one of the fascinating and mysterious stories in the history of the struggle for the establishment of the State of Israel. Here, beneath the ground, and right under the nose of the British, a factory was created for the production of 9mm bullets for the Sten submachine gun, which was the personal weapon of Palmach fighters. The factory lay 24 feet below the ground and was the size of a tennis court and its entry was covered by a 10-ton oven and a large washing machine that camouflaged the noise of manufacturing bullets.


The Ayalon Institute was the largest Israeli military factory to operate underground and produced over 2.5 million bullets during its brief time in operation. A total of 45 young men and women operated under complete secrecy from 1945 until 1948. Even today, some who took part deny their role out of strict secrecy to their mission and cause. 


Jewish National Fund supports ongoing rehabilitation and preservation of the site that includes a new lobby, an audiovisual show, guided tours, a reconstructed dining room, the delegation house, halls and rooms, showers and toilets; a place to hold events, conventions and seminars of up to 400 guests as well as a Eucalyptus grove with picnic tables and lodging tents.


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The Gush Etzion Visitor Center at Kibbutz Kfar Etzion is a memorial to the heroic men and women who gave their lives to protect the communities of the Etzion Bloc—strategically located between Jerusalem and Hebron—during Israel’s War of Independence. This important site, declared a National Heritage Project by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in honor of the 100th anniversary of the Kibbutz Movement, goes back millenia in history and connection to the Jewish people. Thanks to some generous Jewish National Fund donors, the formerly run-down museum has been transformed into a modern interactive visitor center to preserve the story of Gush Etzion and those who sacrificed their lives for Israel's future. In recent years, a promenade has been created to remember the three boys abducted and killed prior to 2014's Operation Protective Edge, and a lookout point in memory of terror victim Ezra Schwartz.


The new museum offers visitors individual interactive stations where they will hear personal stories about the founders and defenders of Gush Etzion and learn about the critical events that led to their surrender. Moving through a reconstructed wartime communications trench, they enter an auditorium to watch a film based on letters written by the men who remained in Gush Etzion to their families who were evacuated to Jerusalem. Tourists then see an actual bunker where the defenders hid, and where they will watch a movie about the return of the children to Gush Etzion in 1967. The third section is an exhibition about Gush Etzion in the 21st century, displaying the modern-day achievements of the region and showing the commitment that residents have to their land. 


“JNF has deep roots in Gush Etzion,” says Shani Simkowitz, director of the Gush Etzion Foundation. “As early as 1928, Jewish National Fund purchased land in the area and today owns 80% of the land there. And Kibbutz Kfar Etzion itself, which was abandoned in the 1930s, was reestablished in 1943 with the financial assistance of JNF. Today, JNF is an invaluable partner in our effort to preserve the ancient and modern history of the region.”


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The 9/11 Living Memorial, located in Jerusalem’s Arazim Park, commemorates the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and stands as a reminder of shared loss and a call for collective understanding. The monument, which was dedicated by Jewish National Fund on November 12, 2009, is one of the first major international memorials to the victims of the attacks and the only site outside of New York that lists the names of the nearly 3,000 men, women, and children who perished. Designed by award-winning Israeli artist Eliezer Weishoff, the 30-foot high bronze sculpture is composed of an American flag transforming into a memorial flame. It rests on a granite base that includes a metal beam from the wreckage of the Twin Towers, generously donated to the Jerusalem Municipality by the City of New York. Surrounding the sculpture is a crater-like stone plaza lined with metal plates that bear the names of those who lost their lives in New York, D.C., and Pennsylvania. Amphitheater-style benches along the interior provide visitors with space for viewing and reflection.


The HaReut Museum and the adjacent Metzudat Koach Memorial, also known as the Nabi Yusha fortress, located in the Upper Galilee commemorate the 28 soldiers who fell during the conquest of the fortress during the War of Independence. Built by the British to control the northern border with Lebanon, Nabi Yusha was a key observation point that commanded the main road to the Upper Galilee. Since control of the site was crucial for the safety of the nearby kibbutzim, the Palmach made three attempts to conquer it in the spring of 1948 after the Arabs gained control of the fortress. Twenty-eight soldiers were killed in the process. The Metzudat Koach Memorial has come to symbolize the “spirit of ‘48”—tenacity, camaraderie, loyalty, the pioneering spirit, and the readiness to sacrifice.


The museum is devoted to the dramatic events of 1920, when Tel-Hai and some other Jewish settlements in the Upper Galilee were cut off from the central part of the country and attacked. Yosef Trumpeldor was at the head of the battle and was killed alongside seven soldiers. These events were the first test of the security of the Jewish Yishuv in Eretz Israel, and every year people gather there to honor the heroes. Following the historic battle, survivors returned to rebuild Tel Hai, despite strong sentiments to abandon the Upper Galilee settlements. These dedicated pioneers established a stable presence that effectively guaranteed the inclusion of the Upper Galilee in the territory of the British Mandate, and later within the boundaries of the State of Israel.


The Women of Valor Center is a testament to the brave women who sacrificed everything to secure the future of Israel, during the Battle of Nitzanim during the War of Independence. With the onset of the Egyptian invasion in May 1948, Nitzanim was cut off and while women and children were evacuated in “Baby Operation", some insisted on staying behind to defend the kibbutz with the men. One of those women was Mira Ben-Ari, who helped her wounded commander walk towards the Egyptian tanks, while waving the white flag of surrender. They shot her commander and, Ben Ari, in the brief moment before being killed herself, seized the opportunity to shoot the Egyptian commander. Adjacent to a memorial sculpture of the Jewish Fighting Women is a quote by Ben Ari, stating, “I separate from my child so that he can grow up in a safe place, so that he can be a free man in our land.”


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This museum is dedicated to the Battle of Yad Mordechai, fought between Egypt and Israel during the War of Independence. This battle forced a five-day delay of the Egyptian forces advance, which gave the Israel Defense Forces time to organize a defensive line against the Egyptian drive toward Tel Aviv. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai was founded in the 1930s and renamed in 1943 after Mordechai Anielewicz, who was the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.


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In the middle of the Motza Valley and next to the town’s synagogue, stands the historic Yellin House – the first house built in Motza in 1890. Built by Yehoshua Yellin, the home is a symbol of the beginning of agricultural settlement in the Land of Israel. On the site he planted a vineyard and a garden, and also purchased more lands to continue the growth of the community at Motza. It was the beginning of agriculture, industry, and private entrepreneurship in Israel, at a time when the Jewish population just began settling beyond the limits of walled Jerusalem.