A Hidden German History of Palestine


Jews weren’t the only European immigrants who arrived in Palestine in the late 19th century. Among those who’d journeyed for commercial, artistic, or missionary purposes was a German Christian group called the Templers.

Starting with their arrival in the mid-1800s, the Templers had good relationships with both Jews and Arabs. They built urban neighborhoods in Jerusalem, Jaffa, and Haifa, as well as several agricultural communities. The buildings they left behind remain among Israel’s most coveted real estate.

In one oral history, a Tel Aviv resident describes the city’s Templer neighborhoods as being “the cleanest. Green too. They were the place for all kinds of culture.” But during World War II, peaceable relations gave way to suspicion that Templers were Nazi sympathizers or party members. They were attacked by Jewish forces, detained by the British, and eventually driven out.

Some of their most valuable land, the colony of Sarona, was purchased by Israel from the British and is now the Kirya, Israel’s security headquarters. The contrast between the Kirya’s heavily-guarded towers and the modest structures of historic Sarona remind us just how much has changed since Israel’s pre-state days.

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