View from Netanya

Sometimes we forget the land of Israel has a long history with other faiths who have contributed to its development, and also that some of the most undesirable features of the 20th century found their way into this country.

Last week I was in the Galil, and visited two Templar villages. The Templars were a sect of German Protestants who came to Palestine towards the end of the 19th century in order to become farmers. They built very solid stone buildings most of which survive to this day. The German colonies in Jerusalem and Haifa, the Sarona district and parts of Neve Tzedek in Tel Aviv, all testify to their solid industriousness. Much of the early development of Haifa as a modern city was due to the Templars, and the vineyards that they laid out are now the Baha’i Gardens.

At the beginning of the 20th century a group of young Templars established two small villages in the Galilee. One is Bethlehem of the Galilee (a village that is mentioned in the book of Joshua) and the other was called Waldheim. Visiting the latter, it is quite startling to suddenly come across a beautiful small church in the middle of what is now a Jewish village, but that testifies to its history.

But there was a darker side. While the older Templars pleaded with Nazi Germany not to display the swastika in the land of Israel, and not to boycott Jewish businesses in Germany, the Nazi ideology increasingly poisoned the minds of the younger members of the group. One of the most startling things I found were photographs of Nazi party rallies which took place in Bet Lehem Haglilit in the 1930s, and with the outbreak of war the whole group were interned and ultimately deported. After the war they were refused permission to remain in Israel, and many of them moved to Australia.

The property that they left behind however has become very expensive and highly desirable!