KKL-JNF, together with the Council for the Preservation of Sites and Buildings and the Biriya Fortress Restoration Organization, has turned Biriya Fortress into a fascinating site. In the time of the Talmud (700-300 BCE), there was an important town in the vicinity called Biriya, where famous sages lived. In the Middle Ages, Rabbi Yosef Karo lived in Biriya, where he completed the Orach Chayim section of the Shulchan Aruch in 1555. It seems the Jewish town was abandoned at the end of the sixteenth century. Biriya still had an important role to play, however. In 1908, Baron Rothschild purchased the lands of Biriya for the farmers of Rosh Pina, and a group of workers attempted to settle there in 1922 but were unsuccessful. The lands of Biriya were transferred to KKL-JNF, which began planting the forest.
Years passed. In the aftermath of World War II, on January 8, 1946, the Religious Brigade of the Palmach founded a community at this site, and they worked with KKL-JNF on land development and tree planting. Because iron was scarce, the fortress in Biriya was built with double walls made of stone. Consequently, the roofing was constructed on vaults, a style unique to the Biriya Fortress. The vaults were made with drainpipes and channels that conducted rainwater to a reservoir, which supplied all the water needed by the new settlement.
In a room on the southern path, you can see a replica of the water collection in the well. The fortress had two watchtowers and a lookout. These towers served, among other things, as a means of communication between the Jewish community of Tzefat and the Upper Galilee headquarters of the Hagana in Ayelet Hashachar. The people of Biriya assisted in smuggling Jews from Syria to the land of Israel.
In February, 1946, the British discovered two caches of weapons outside the encampment, where a Palmach unit had hidden arms after an unsuccessful assault. The British detained the 24 members of Biriya, incarcerated them in Akko and took over the stronghold. The Jews in the land of Israel refused to accept the harsh decree and, after about two weeks, around midnight on the rainy night of 11 Adar, the Hagana organized Operation Gidem. On the pretext of visiting Tel Hai, 3,000 people equipped with supplies established Biriya 2, a new Jewish settlement near the fortress. All movements were represented - Hapoel Hamizrachi, Hashomer Hatzair, Beitar, Hagana, country folk and city folk, religious and secular.
The British were stunned and waited for the thousands to disperse, but it didn’t happen. When they ran out of patience, they attacked the new stronghold, demolished the buildings and evacuated by force the 150 people who still remained. When this became known, hundreds of people from the area went to Biriya and started building Biriya 3. In view of their resolve, the British army retreated and allowed the pioneers to stay there. After about three weeks they were replaced by Bnei Akiva Seed Group 5, and two months later the British abandoned the fortress, so the group went to live there, and they were later replaced by Bnei Akiva Seed Group 6.
Biriya symbolizes the struggle of the people of Israel for their land. The mountain on which the fortress stands is called the Mountain of the Bold in honor of the pioneers. The fortress has become a wonderful museum that documents the site's history. On one wall of the fortress, across from the canopy, there is an exhibition of pictures and documents. In the dining hall you can see a 12-minute film about the site. Groups of visitors may compile a computerized newspaper for themselves with media news about Biriya from the past.