Today the municipality of Acre has over 46,000 residents, of whom 28% are Palestinian Arabs. A poor city, Acre attracts many Jewish immigrants from former republics of the Soviet Union (25% come from Georgia or Kafkaz). For recently-arrived Jewish immigrants, Acre is a temporary stopover: it is the city with the highest rate of emigration into the interior of Israel. Over 7,000 people live in the Old City alone, which represents more than half the Palestinian population of the whole municipality. Although Acre has the undeniable charm of a fortified port and a place rich in history, the rundown condition of its buildings has been striking. In fact, even though Acre was recognised as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001, few local or national initiatives to renew and promote the historical heritage of the Old City were made until recently, although it has a great potential for tourism and is only now starting to be promoted. Unfortunately the Arab Palestinian population (who represent the majority of the population inside the walls) is the group most affected by unemployment, and the current gentrification is starting to force them out of the city. The residents believe that the Israeli authorities have made a political decision to encourage Palestinians to settle outside the Old City. This policy was most notable in 1976, by the construction of a village situated eight kilometres from the old town, designed especially for the Arab population of Acre; until now, however, it has attracted few Arab settlers. Given the low standard of living of the Arab population, few Palestinians can afford to buy property outside the Old City and therefore cannot leave it. On the other hand, living in an Arab neighbourhood does not appeal to most of the Jewish Israeli population and the Old City also has the reputation of being an active centre of drug dealing. For these reasons, there has been very little Jewish immigration into the Old City until recently, when gentrification has started to change the demographics.
Things to see
The Old City
After the destruction of St. John of Acre in 1291, Acre remained without fortifications until Daher al-Omar provided it with a new wall seven metres high and one metre thick. To this day, it can easily be seen in the north-east corner of the town.
Al-Souk al-Abyad (The White Marketplace)
This long marketplace was built on the site of Souk al-Daher, which, with 110 market-stalls, was Acre’s main commercial centre. It was called the White Market, probably because of the intensity of the light reflected from its whitewashed walls. Today, it has lost some of its brilliance but is still full of activity, with several reasonably priced restaurants.
The al-Jazzar Mosque
Constructed in 1781 by Ottoman Governor Ahmed Pasha al-Jazzar, it is the largest mosque built in Palestine during the Ottoman period. Around a central courtyard, the cloister arches lead to cells reserved for the numerous students and pilgrim-travellers who visit Acre. The granite and porphyry columns are from ancient cities in the area, such as Caesarea and Tyre. The mosque’s interior is an impressive example of eighteenth century Ottoman art; the walls and the mihrab are completely covered with faience (tin-glazed pottery), encrusted marble and Quranic calligraphy.
The elaborately decorated main door reveals the importance of this monument. Next to its geometrical designs is an inscription describing its function: “Door of the Acre government” (‘Bab Hukumat Akka’). It dates from 1850-51 (1267 of the Hejira or Muslim calendar). The emblem (tugra in Turkish) of the Ottoman sultan, Abdel Majid (1839-1861), crowns the inscription. The inscription corresponds to the time of the Seraglio’s renovation: it was actually built by Ahmed Pasha at the end of the eighteenth century. A century later, it became a post office, then a school under both the British Mandate and, currently, the State of Israel.
The Knights’ Hall: under the Citadel, archaeologists have exposed huge rooms dating from mediaeval times, including rooms and the courtyard of the Crusaders’ hospice. These areas are actually three to seven metres underground, beneath al-Jazzar Street; these underground rooms are one of the major sites in the city.
Since the seventeenth century, the Citadel has housed the Acre prison. During the British Mandate, hundreds of Palestinian patriots were jailed here, “interrogated,” and sometimes hung. A section of the Israeli Ministry of Defence runs the present-day Museum of Prisoners of the Shadow. Presentation of the historical facts is completely biased: absolutely no mention is made of Palestinian resistance and patriots, who were the majority of the prisoners held in Palestine under the British Mandate. During the Palestinian Revolution, also called the Great Revolt of 1936-1939, more than 10,000 Palestinians were placed in detention camps, many of them held for many years, thereby leaving Palestine without many of its leaders in the late 40s, when the Jewish Yishuv was already planning its take-over of Palestine, once the British left.
The Acre prison was one of the principal prisons in Palestine, used as a transit camp for other detention camps. If there were some Zionist prisoners at the beginning of the British Mandate, they belonged to the revisionist group and were very few in number. It was only after the publication of a British parliamentary White Paper in 1939 rejecting the idea of a Jewish state that paramilitary Zionist groups started a direct campaign of violence against the British authorities, leading to British military retaliation and a correspondingly large increase in the number of Jewish prisoners. Despite these reservations, the actual museum gives an impression of conditions of imprisonment during the British Mandate: on our last visit to the room one could see a scale model of the prison, while two guards on duty there, wearing dark glasses and stony expressions, set the tone. Despite these reservations, the museum as it is permits a glimpse of what it was to be imprisoned during the British Mandate, or, equally, today under Israeli control. Popular Palestinian songs and chants about the times of Ottoman and British oppression keep the memory of the prison of Acre alive, while evoking today’s Israeli prisons, in which a huge majority of Palestinian men have served.
The Zeituna Mosque
This mosque was built in 1754-55 by Haj Mohammed al-Sadiki. Popular local myth says that its name is derived from the field of olives where it was constructed. At that time, Acre was just a small village of 200 to 300 residents. In the middle of the nineteenth century, the mosque belonged to Sheikh al-Yashruti’s Sufi order, until the Zawiya al-Shaziliya was built next door. According to another version of local myth, the mosque was named after the Grand Mosque ez-Zaytouna in Tunis, where the sheikh originated. In its courtyard is the Tomb of Hussein Abdel Hadi; born in Nablus, he was made governor of Acre during the period of Egyptian domination, until his death in 1836.
The al-Shawarda Khan
This khan was built in two stages. The eastern wing was erected against the surrounding wall, under the direction of Daher al-Omar, while the other wings were built under Pasha al-Jazzar. From his time of influence on, the inn became the property of the al-Jazzar Mosque. In its south-east angle is a thirteenth century belfry, named Burj al-Sultan. It dates from the time of Daher al-Omar and served as a watchtower. Some of its stones bear the marks of masons (a cross and triangles), which indicate that they were taken from older buildings dating from the Crusader period. Today there are several workshops here. In the evening, when all the workshops and other shops are closed, people flock to the huge and popular café, Leili al-Sultan.
The al-Franj Khan (Khan of the Franks or French Inn)
This khan was originally called Sinan Pasha’s Inn but was soon nicknamed the ‘French Inn’ due to the many French and Italian merchants who frequented the establishment to buy cotton goods in the sixteenth century. The French buyers were given preferential treatment by a business treaty concluded between Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent and King Francis I in 1535. The French Inn was built in the Venetian quarter in Crusader times. There is a Franciscan church located in its northeast corner, dating from the eighteenth century.
After the fall of Acre in 1291, the city ruins obstructed the port, so merchant ships were afraid to moor there safely. When the port regained its importance in the eighteenth century, ships anchored at a considerable distance from the city walls and transferred their goods onto small boats to take them in to harbour to unload. For this reason, from the nineteenth century onwards, Haifa Port, on the other side of the bay, became considered a superior location for shipping, and in less than a century became the second most important port in the Mediterranean after Marseilles. Today, the little port of Acre has no commercial
significance, although it is lively with fishermen and pleasure boats.
St. Andrew’s Church
The Palestinian Greek Catholic or Melkite community built St Andrew’s Church at the initiative of their first bishop, Makarios Ujaymi, in circa 1760 AD. It was probably called St. Andrew’s after an earlier church built at the time of the Crusades, situated near the lighthouse. As the congregation increased during the nineteenth century, the church was richly furnished, giving it a special charm, which pervades it to this day.
St. George’s Church
The focal point of the Greek Orthodox community, St. George’s is the oldest church in Acre. The exact date of its inception is unknown, but the Order of Saint Basil was based here circa 1631 AD. It was renovated at the time of Fakhreddin, in the middle of the seventeenth century. Sometimes called St. Nicolas Church, it has the reputation of being the most beautiful church in the Middle East. It was renamed St. George’s in the middle of the eighteenth century, after a young Cypriot named Georgios, who was executed in Acre. He was canonised by the Greek Orthodox patriarch in Istanbul, and his body exhumed and taken to Cyprus in 1972. The Palestinian Greek Orthodox community is today the leading Christian community in Acre; it has close ties with the Christian community in Cyprus, as evidenced by the church decorations, which are typically Cypriot.
Only the mosque and the house of mukhtar Hussein ‘Ataya remain of the village today. Around the ruins of the mosque, the National Park Office has created a park (open Saturday-Thursday 8:0017:00, Friday 8:00-16:00; entrance fee NIS 10). A sign at the entrance states, “During the Talmudic period [the Roman period, second - third centuries AD], Akhziv had a flourishing Jewish community (…). Over the next centuries, it (the town) declined until it was just a coastal village.” Next to the national park, there is a private Israeli park, Akhzivland (open April-September 8:00-17:00).
Al-Bassa and Ras en-Naqoura
The Melkite Greek Catholic Church and the mosque have both been transformed into stables, while other houses have been occupied by Jewish residents. The Shlomi industrial estate (adjoining a Jewish settlement, Shlomi, founded in 1950) has grown up near the location of the old village, while many Jewish settlements now stand on the site of the village and its land: Betzet was established on part of the village, for Romanian and Yugoslavian Jews (in 1949); Kfar Rosh HaNikra, on the Palestinian hamlet of Ras en-Naqura (a small village that was part of the town of al-Bassa), for veterans of the Yiftach Zionist brigade. Rosh HaNikra represents the Israeli front on the Lebanese border.
In 1944-1945, the community of Iqrit numbered 490 people (460 Christians, mainly Greek Catholic, and 30 Muslims). The church is the only building that was not demolished. Although Palestinians from this village bearing Israeli nationality are forbidden to return, several Jewish establishments now exist on village land, including Goren (1950) and Gornot HaGalil (1980). Today the population of people whose families originated in Iqrit numbers over 3,500. In July 1951, the villagers of Iqrit pleaded their case before Israel's Supreme Court, and on 31 July 1951, the court recognised the rights of the villagers to their land and their right to return to it. The court said the land was not abandoned and therefore could not be placed under the custodian of enemy property. After this judgement, the Military Government found another justification to prevent them from returning. The villagers appealed to the Supreme Court again and were scheduled to have their case considered on 6 February 1952. However, on Christmas Day in 1951, Israeli Defence Forces destroyed the village. According to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Israeli soldiers took the mukhtar of Iqrit to the top of a nearby hill to force him to watch as Israeli troops blew up every house in the village. Archbishop Elias Chacour, Archbishop of Acre (Akka), Haifa, Nazareth and All Galilee of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church, has written extensively of this in his best-seller BLOOD BROTHERS, relating the history as his brothers’ who witnessed it had told him, since he himself was away at school in Haifa at the time.
The majority of Fassouta residents are Christians of the Melkite Greek Catholic sect. You may contact Father Khoury, to learn about the Melkite Church and the Christian community of Galilee, and to discuss the question of human rights and the various types of discrimination to which Israeli Palestinians are subjected.
People to meet
Acre Women’s Association
Women founded this association in 1975 to respond to the need for improved social infrastructure. At that time, the town was just emerging from over 20 years of isolation. The association supports several projects, which aim at reinforcing the position of women in Acre society, which is quite conservative. These projects concentrate on developing child-rearing education for parents and promoting access to the job market for women.
Places to eat
There are several terrace cafes in a row near the al-Jazzar Mosque. This is an extremely active area during the day; in the evening, activities centre more around the al-Shawarda Inn and the Liali al-Sultan café. Nargila smokers are not to be disappointed here. The Khan Café is also popular: its seaside terrace provides a lovely view over the harbour, with Haifa visible in the distance.
Fish is obviously one of Acre’s specialties, and there is a wide choice of various fresh fish. These are prepared in a fairly standard manner. There are many simple restaurants in the White Marketplace, serving generous fish specialties, which are reasonably priced.
Abu Christo specialises in fish and seafood.
Pisan Harbour or Galileo specialise in fish and seafood.
Hummus Said, which is definitely one of the town’s best restaurants, does not serve fish, but there are excellent hors d’oeuvre such as hummus, eggplant puree and grilled meat.
Places to sleep
Akko Gate Hostel, Saladin Street. This hostel is inexpensive, with a large bar downstairs. It is possible to
The historic heart of Haifa includes several different neighbourhoods that spread around the port as it expanded. The most ancient part, known by the Arabic name: al-Balad (“Old City”) dates from the time of Daher al-Omar. Much of this quarter was destroyed in April 1948; some of its most beautiful historic buildings are today threatened with demolition, once again. On July 1, 1948, all Palestinians who had remained in Haifa were issued with an ultimatum: to move to Wadi Nisnas or to Wadi Salib. As a result, many Palestinians had to leave their homes in other neighbourhoods.
In their new “ghettos,” as they were called, the Palestinians were subjected to curfews, systematic house searches, and arbitrary arrests and had to obtain authorisation from the military administration to enter Jewish neighbourhoods or simply to go from one Arab neighbourhood to another. Their “empty” homes were declared “absentee property” and handed to Jewish housing agencies, principally Shikmona and Amidar, who became responsible for their administration. By November 1948, approximately 6,000 Jewish families had been installed in these Palestinian homes. Later, many of these immigrant Jews settled on Mount Carmel and rented “their” apartments to Palestinians. However, to this day, Jewish housing agencies are the “legal owners.” Today, almost 70% of the Palestinian homes of Haifa, whose architecture surpasses any other in Haifa, are actually being demolished. Other “absentee properties” are being sold, even though theoretically and by law, they should be held in custodianship for their rightful owners.
For the Palestinians, the policy of enclosure and destruction of Arab neighbourhoods and the Arab urban patrimony of Haifa is nothing but a continuation of a long-standing programme to evict Palestinian residents from their city, Haifa. It is yet another example (similar to the case of Palestinian East Jerusalem) of a long-standing Israeli policy of “quiet transfer” or sanitised ethnic cleansing.
Things to see
St. Gabriel’s Church Little remains of this neighbourhood except several partially or totally bricked-up houses as well as St. Gabriel’s Church, which was built by Gabriel Fuad Saad in 1930 for the Greek Catholic (Melkite) community, but which ceased functioning in 1948. Cleansed of its population, the whole neighbourhood was almost entirely destroyed at that time, and families forced to move to Wadi Nisnas or Wadi Salib. The destruction of the quarter made space for the port’s expansion and the construction of the Jewish neighbourhood of Bat Galim. The church today is classified as a site “protected” by the Israeli Ministry of Religious Affairs. Lacking maintenance, the roof has collapsed.
Haj Abdallah Mosque Distinguished by its minaret, with three balconies surrounded by a wrought iron trellis, the mosque dates from 1932. It was originally built by Haj Abdallah Abu Younis. There was once a primary school on the first floor. When Haj Abdallah moved to Damascus in 1937, it became Islamic (waqf) property, under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Muslim Council of Palestine. The mosque was closed during the Nakba, and Israeli authorities then confiscated it under the terms of the Absentee Property Law. The ground and first floors were rented to private individuals. After a legal process undertaken for years by the Haifa Muslim community, the mosque was handed back to the community in 1981.
Bahai Temple and Gardens Built on the slopes of Mount Carmel, the Bahai Temple and its terraced gardens are the symbol of Haifa. The planned beauty of its Persian gardens is unique: for Bahai believers, aesthetics and mysticism are inseparable. The temple, which was constructed in 1953, houses the tomb of the prophet recognised by the Bahai, the Bab (Siyyid Ali Mohammed Shirazi), executed in Persia in 1850. His body was brought to Palestine in 1909 by Abd al-Baha Abbas, also known as Abbas Effendi, the son and successor of Baha’ullah, founder of the Bahai Faith, and a follower of the Bab. The movement claims itself to be an independent religion and to inherit the prophetic messages of Moses, Zarathustra, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed and Baha’ullah. It is very close, as much in its unitary message and its geographic origins as in its value for floral and aesthetic purity, to the founder of the Mahdi movement, in the fifth century. It has some five million followers, most of whom are drawn from well-to-do Westerners.
Mar Elias or the Carmelite Monastery The original Mar Elias Monastery was built in the twelfth century, by the Carmelites. Its name is derived from the nearby cave, where the Prophet Elijah or Elias was said to have prayed, in the nineteenth century BC. Destroyed in 1291, a new monastery was built in 1769 with the approval of the ruling governor of the Galilee, Daher al-Omar. During the siege of Acre in 1799, the convent (there are two institutions there, a convent for nuns and a monastery for monks) became a temporary hospital for those of Napoleon’s troops who were wounded.
Abdallah Pasha’s Palace This villa was constructed in 1821 as the summer residence of the former Ottoman governor of Acre, Abdallah Pasha. Before he was deported to Egypt in 1840, Abdallah Pasha entrusted it to the Carmelites, who converted it into a hospice. Under the British Mandate, a lighthouse was built next to the palace, which had only been rented to the monks, and the palace became the general headquarters of the British army. In 1948, the building was requisitioned and confiscated by the Israeli army.
Maqam Nabi Khader or Magharat al-Khader (the Grotto of al-Khader) Legend has it that wherever Khader prayed, green grass would spring up to cover the site. This maqam is one of several Palestinian holy places dedicated to al-Khader; it is a holy place for both Muslims and Christians. Islamic property (waqf) until 1948, the maqam was expropriated and converted into a synagogue in honour of the prophet Elijah (1 Kings 18).
People to meet
Baladna-Association for Arab Youth is a development and capacity building agency for Arab-Palestinian youth in Israel. Established during the violent events of October 2000, in which 13 Arab citizens of Israel, mostly youth, were killed by Israeli security forces, Baladna works to address the gaps which exist between young Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel and other youth in Israeli society. Baladna strives to foster in Palestinian youth a strong sense of identity, in the hope of encouraging community engagement and self-motivated social changes.
Social Development Committee Haifa was started in 1986 to fill a need for better public services for Haifa’s Palestinian community and to work against discrimination in education, employment, housing and health. Sensitive to Haifa’s multicultural identity, the association has also spearheaded information campaigns about the city’s endangered cultural heritage.
Ittijah Union of Arab Community Based Associations The Arabic word Ittijah means “direction.” It is also the acronym for the Union of Arab Non-Governmental Organisations – of which there are more than a hundred in the State of Israel. Its objectives are to raise the status of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, to co-ordinate the activities and strategies of member associations and to inform the international world about the systematic discrimination with which Palestinian Israeli citizens live. Ittijah is a key reference for information and contact with associations working in the areas of education, human rights, child rights, health, economic and social development, unrecognised villages, political prisoners and women’s rights.
Places to eat
There are many popular restaurants in the Palestinian quarters of Wadi Nisnas and Wadi Salib. On the menu: traditional hors d’oeuvre and grilled meats.
Fattoush, Arab salad is served here on toasted bread sprinkled with olive oil and lemon juice. It has been built in an old workshop.
Layli and Makan, both have open terraces outside on the airy street, which is especially delightful at dusk.
Douzan, is the most original. Its antique furniture, art books and photos of pre-1948 Haifa evoke a golden age or a paradise lost.
Where to sleep
Bed & Breakfast, Wadi Nisnas, next to St. John’s Church.
Social Development Committee Haifa arranges rooms with local people, an excellent way to learn about the Arab culture of Palestinian Israelis and to experience the Old City of Haifa.
St. Charles Hospice, 105 Jaffa Road. The Hospice is run by Catholic nuns of the Order of the Sisters of the Rosary. The rooms are simple but very comfortable with modern bathrooms.
Jaffa today has 40,000 residents, including 20,000 Palestinians (one third of whom are Christians of the Greek Orthodox Church), who represent 50% of the population of Jaffa. However, as a percentage of the population of the entire Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality, they constitute no more than 3.5%. By mid-May 1948, the Palestinian population of Jaffa had been depleted to less than 4,000 individuals; the towns and villages in the Jaffa area were completely cleansed of their inhabitants.
There was no survivor who did not lose almost all his relatives as refugees in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon or elsewhere. Wearing haggard faces, Palestinian survivors were forced to stay inside certain areas and were subjected to many forms of harassment, whilst each empty house was looted by soldiers and by new Jewish immigrants who settled in the city. Other, still inhabited houses were requisitioned by the army, then declared “absentee property.” In fact, today only 36% of the Palestinians living in Jaffa own their property. The others rent their apartments or shops from the custodian bodies established by the Absentee Property Law: Amidar and Halamish. One of the most important property owners in Jaffa is the Israeli Ministry of Defence (in fact, the Israeli army controls 51% of all properties in Israel, according to New Profile, an Israeli peace organisation working to demilitarise Israeli society). On April 24, 1950, Jaffa was integrated into the Municipality of Tel Aviv under the name Tel Aviv-Yafo. During the 1960s, the municipality set up a vast construction project along the coast to the south of Jaffa, in the neighbourhoods of Ajami and Jabalya, where most of Jaffa’s Palestinians lived. Over half this area, which had been spared the first wave of destruction, was demolished between 1957 and 1997, most of the time supposedly because it was collapsing and therefore a public danger. It had been deliberate policy over the years to allow the area to fall into ruin, by forbidding home improvement and boarding up absent refugees homes. Prices of land soared due to over-demand, so that the original inhabitants could not afford to buy property, also suffering from double discrimination of both class and ethnicity. Today, overpopulation affects 17% of Jaffa’s Palestinian families against 2% of its Jewish families, even though the average Palestinian family in Jaffa has no more than four members. The Palestinian community also views with apprehension the gentrification plans of Jewish real estate moguls from Tel Aviv to develop luxurious residences, not only because they do not faithfully reflect the Arab character of Jaffa, but also because Palestinian residents may be seen as being of a lower class and an undesirable community, thereby jeopardising their presence. Of especial note is the comparison of these policies of judaisation, especially of the Old City of Jaffa, with what is now happening in the Old City of Jerusalem, where, in the Muslim Quarter, 28 Palestinian families are facing eviction because their homes are becoming unsafe, probably due to tunnelling carried out beneath them by militant settlers. They are not allowed to carry out renovations, and are therefore extremely suspicious that this policy is yet another example of judaisation of the Old City as happened in previous years, in Jaffa.
Things to see
Old Jaffa (Yaffa al-Qadima)
The entry to the Old City is marked by several monuments: one of the most striking is at clock tower square, formerly Midan al-Shouhada Martyrs’ Square. The belfry was built in 1906 in honour of the 25th year of the reign of Sultan Abdel Hamid II. It was renovated in 1965 in a style reminiscent of Russian Orthodox bell towers. Until 1874, this square was located inside the main entrance gate to the city; however, when the ramparts of Jaffa were destroyed, the square remained its business and administrative heart. One of its pre-eminent buildings is the Great Mosque or al-Mahmoudiya Mosque, which was built circa 1814 AD under Governor Mohammed Agha, nicknamed Abu Nabout (“Father Cudgel”).
Until 1948, the law courts and the main Islamic administrative (Wakf) office were located here. Next to the building was the former Ottoman Kishleh, which served as the police station and its prison. In 1948, the Israeli police occupied the premises. Nearby (slightly to the south-east) is the present-day flea market, a huge area dealing in second-hand goods, which is located in the old vegetable market and in the al-Salahi market. This is one of Jaffa’s oldest neighbourhoods. At the end of Beit Eshel Street (formerly Siksek Street) is the former Siksek Mosque, now transformed into a plastics factory. Jaffa Palestinians have made numerous overtures to the Israeli authorities in order to secure the return of the mosque to the jurisdiction of the Muslim community and to have it restored to its original use. To this day, those demands have been made in vain.
From the top of the hill, Old Jaffa appears to contain large areas of open space. However, until 1936, this empty space was the most densely populated neighbourhood in the city, and also the oldest. This area was one of the bastions of Palestinian opposition and resistance. British occupation forces destroyed most of the area between June 18 and 21, 1936. This destruction was made under pretext of implementing a new urban development plan. In the middle of the 1960s, Israeli municipal authorities working with the Old Jaffa Development Company undertook a project to build a centre for tourism here. Jaffa Palestinians refer to it ironically as “the new Jaffa.” Today it is full of many artists’ studios and galleries, a park and expensive cafés and restaurants. Visitors come across several historical sites and “historical” information panels conceived by the Israeli municipality in which the original population of Jaffa is either simply excluded or described in disparaging terms. These comments eloquently illustrate how the Palestinian minority of Jaffa is considered.
The Jaffa Museum of Antiquities
The museum is located in a wing of the palace (al-Saraya) – the administrative residence of the Ottoman governors, constructed in the eighteenth century. Archaeological finds made on the tel are exhibited here. One of the most beautiful pieces in the museum is a lintel, which was in place above the main entrance of the Egyptian fortress in Jaffa in the days of Ramses II (thirteenth century BC).
Behind the Mosque of the Sea and St. Nicolas’ Armenian Church, one can see the Tel Aviv shoreline to its most northern limit. In the distance, high-rise towers (one of which houses the Hilton Hotel) have been established on an ancient Jaffa cemetery, the Abdel Nabi cemetery. Nearer to our lookout point stands an isolated mosque. This is the Hassan Bek Mosque; until 1948 it was situated in the heart of one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Jaffa, al-Manshiya.
The Franciscan Church and St. Peter’s Monastery (Kanissa al-Qal’a - the Church of the Citadel).
The Roman Catholic Church of St. Peter was built by the Franciscans in 1891, according to the plans of two Italian architects, Serafino of Palermo and Bernardino of Rome. Its style is arresting. The church was also dedicated to Saint Louis, King of France (Louis IX), to remind people that it was built on the ruins of the Crusader citadel. Local tradition has it that Napoleon stayed here during his military campaign in 1799.
The Port of Jaffa
From Jaffa harbour there is a unique view of the Old City, an image straight out of the old lithographs of the town. The port, full of life though it is, with fishing boats and pleasure craft coming and going, is nevertheless unpretentious. However, it was the most important harbour in Palestine until Haifa took its place in 1934. Too small a dock for cargo boats, the merchandise was transported by small craft, which rowed out through treacherous reefs to larger ships anchored at sea. One product more than any other made the reputation and fortune of Jaffa: citrus fruit. During the general strike of 1936, the colony of Tel Aviv developed its own port with the approval of the British authorities. In 1948, the port witnessed the tragic departure of the people of Jaffa. Since 1965, it has no longer been a port of call for merchant vessels, but has been refurbished as a leisure area, with many shops, cafes, fashionable restaurants and stages where rock concerts are popularly held.
Andromeda’s Rock (Sakhret Andromeda)
Located at the end of the harbour pier, the rock is associated with the myth in Greek mythology written by the Greek geographer Strabo in the first century BC: an oracle predicted that if Andromeda, a young woman who was a great beauty, was sacrificed to a sea monster that was laying waste to the area, the local people would be liberated. Andromeda was chained to this rock. She was rescued just in time by Perseus, a demi-god born of the union between a king’s daughter, Danae, and the god Zeus. Perseus, with the help of the goddess Athena and the god Hermes, killed the monster and married Andromeda. This myth was a favourite both with the people of Jaffa and throughout the Mediterranean. In 58 BC, huge bones were discovered washed up on the coast probably belonging to a stranded whale - and were exhibited in Rome as the remains of the monster that would have devoured Andromeda. In the fourth century, St. Jerome referred to the ongoing, curious commerce still taking place around the monster’s remains.
Most of Jaffa’s Palestinians today live in the Ajami, Jabalya, Nuzha and al-Manshiya neighbourhoods. The Ajami Quarter could be considered the heart of social, cultural and fun activities for the Arab community. In the 1960s, and again in about 1987, Ajami and Jabalya were targeted by a municipal project of luxury housing construction. At the same time, private housing construction and the huge increase in the price of land in these areas led many of their Palestinian residents to look for homes elsewhere. Low-income housing projects financed by the city and targeted at Palestinians are exceptional. Finally, in 1996, the municipal authorities agreed to build 400 units for Palestinian families. To this day, however, only 100 units have been built, and there is an ongoing process of gentrification of Jaffa’s Arab quarters, so that fashionable and expensive properties are being bought up by Israeli Jews from Tel Aviv, at the expense of local Palestinian residents.
Known in the Bible as Yahud, and Iudaea in its Latinised form under the Romans, then changed to the Arabic al-Yahudiya in the Islamic era, this town was renamed again in 1932 when its residents named it al-Abbassiya after a local dignitary, Sheikh Abbas. Until its demolition in 1948, al-Abbassiya was one of the most important towns in the Jaffa region. It had a population of 3,258 in 1931, which had increased to 5,800 by 1944 (5,650 Palestinians and 150 Jews). From the end of 1947 onwards, al-Abbassiya was the target of many Zionist attacks: on December 13, 1947, the paramilitary group Irgun placed several bombs in the village, killing more than seven Palestinians. On February 24, 1948, a bomb was thrown from a moving car, killing two people. Al-Abbassiya was completely cleansed of its population in the “clean-up” operation of the district of Jaffa undertaken by the Hagana at the end of April 1948. On May 4, 1948, al-Abbassiya was occupied by the Irgun. On June 11, the village was retaken by Arab troops, but the Israeli army retook it on July 10. On September 13, 1948, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion asked the Cabinet to approve the destruction of al-Abbassiya. The Cabinet apparently refused, because ten days later immigrant Jews were settled in the empty homes.
The town today Many buildings still stand, among them the al-Abbas Mosque in the heart of the village, today bearing the name “Shalom Shebdi Synagogue.” Five settlements have grown up on the land belonging to al-Abbassiya: Yehud (on the site of the village, in 1948), Magshimim (1949), Ganei Yehuda (1951), Ganei Tikva (1953) and Savyon (1954).
The village owes its name and popularity to the tomb of the Prophet Rubin (Reuben) who, the Bible says, was the first son of Jacob and Leah (Genesis 29:32). The origins of the mawsim celebrations are obscure, but it seems that this great regional festivity is a tradition dating back to ancient days. In the first half of the twentieth century, it attracted as many as 30,000 people from the centre of Palestine (Jaffa, Ramle, Gaza and Beersheba) and even farther afield. The festivities continued from July to September; the pilgrimage was both religious and secular in expression: the days were passed in religious chanting (plainsong), but also with folk music and folk dancing (dabkeh). In 1944, there were 1,420 people living in the village.
The Mosque and Nabi Rubin’s Tomb
The mosque is the only remaining trace of Nabi Rubin: it is beautiful despite its state of neglect. Located in a field of sand dunes, one can only reach it by foot. The maqam, located inside the mosque, has become a place of Jewish worship but is visited infrequently. If one looks carefully, the places for the stands for the annual celebrations may be detected under the thick layer of sand.
People to meet
The Islamic Council of Jaffa; the objective of the council is to restore and preserve the Muslim holy places of Jaffa and its outlying catchment area (mosques, maqams, and cemeteries), which are totally unprotected and often desecrated. As a single example, one of Jaffa’s cemeteries in the north of Tel Aviv was demolished in order to build the Hilton Hotel. The council is equally active in social affairs, for instance, by granting study scholarships to young Palestinian students.
The league for Jaffa Arabs (Rabita)
The league was founded in 1979 in response to the isolation of the Palestinian community in Jaffa and to improve its living conditions. The association plays a social and cultural role by organising cultural events and providing social support. It is also active in preserving Jaffa’s heritage, which is threatened by many municipal projects for luxury housing constructions.
The Orthodox Philanthropic Society of Jaffa is one of the oldest societies in Palestine; the Orthodox Philanthropic Society of Jaffa was founded in 1879 to represent the Arab orthodox congregation in the city. Today it provides financial support to local Orthodox widows and students; it also runs a youth group, Orthodox Club, and takes care of the church and cemetery.
Lydda, or Lod (the name given to it under the British Mandate), is an unrecognisable town, a ghost emerging from some cultivated farmland: vacant lots and huge urban developments, typical of urban suburbs everywhere. A poor suburb of Tel Aviv, the city numbers over 66,600 residents, of whom 9,000 are Palestinian. Russian and Ethiopian new immigrants make up the majority of the population. The social and economic situation is very similar to that of its neighbour, Ramle. But Lydda had its moments of glory and there remain some vestiges of proof to witness, places of interest ignored both by the municipal authorities and the Israeli Ministry of Tourism. It is also currently facing a wave of gentrification, due to its prime location near Tel Aviv, so home demolitions are extremely prevalent here.
Things to see
Church of St. George
Local Christian and Muslim tradition has it that St. George (al-Khader in Arabic) was born in Lydda, where his bones were brought after his martyrdom; his tomb should therefore be found in the crypt. As for the church itself, it was built in the nineteenth century by the Greek Orthodox community. Several Byzantine and mediaeval architectural elements have been re-integrated into the more recent structure. As with most oriental churches dedicated to St. George, this one has iron rings in the walls (on the right of the main entrance), used to chain insane people in the hope of curing them [See al-Khader Church, p. 200]. Next to the church is the Omar Mosque, built ca.1268, and also dedicated to al-Khader (St. George). Nearby, two caravanserais (inns serving camel caravans) reveal the historic importance of Lydda as a centre for pilgrims and trade; upkeep of these caravanserais has been totally neglected by the Jewish municipality. Khan al-Helou (the Beautiful Caravanserai), still well conserved, is in the middle of a field; without doubt it merits a visit and also full restoration. In today’s Herzl Street, the Dahamash Mosque re-opened its doors on April 12, 1996, almost exactly 48 years after Israeli troops, under the command of Moshe Dayan (who went on to become Israel’s commander-in-chief during the 1967 War) and subsequently was known as a peacemaker in negotiations with Egypt), bombarded it while the citizens of Lydda had taken refuge in it.
Ramle today is a melting pot of all the different people one sees at the busy market in the heart of the Old City. The area, which is quite run-down, has been called a “ghetto” since 1948. Palestinians were in effect confined to the Old City under martial law until 1966. Once a historic centre of Palestine, the Old City is lacking neither in charm nor historical ruins. Next to buildings built in the first half of the twentieth century lie architectural and decorative details. The state of dilapidation of these Islamic buildings and the lack of interest invested in the Arab-Islamic heritage of the town is obvious. Elsewhere in the country, however, one sees crumbling foundations of antique stone walls which have been conserved, with no expense spared! Overpopulation, poverty, disregard by the Palestinian population as to its cultural heritage, and Israeli municipal and state policy towards it, all have contributed to the sad state of this historic centre. Symbolic of its current status, Ramle is now best known as site of five major Israeli prisons, including the infamous maximum security Ayalon Prison.
Things to see
The site of the old public bath-house has been a victim of municipal policy, as the city recently allowed a restaurant to extend its rooms here, to the detriment of the older buildings. What remains, in the middle of the crossroads, is now less eloquent a statement than before.
The Town Hall
The town hall is housed in the former residence of a wealthy Palestinian gold dealer, Choukri Rezeq. He had it built for his son shortly before Israeli troops took the city in 1948. The residence and all its brand new furniture, prepared for the newlyweds whose wedding was to be in the summer of 1948, were confiscated. Today it has been turned into Ramle’s town hall. Notice the original carpets inside the building.
The Great Mosque (Masjid al-Kebir)
The mosque is near a market. It was originally a Roman Catholic cathedral, St. John’s Cathedral, built by the Crusaders. Its beautiful façade, Cistercian capitals and roof are distinctive. Sultan Baybar had it transformed into a mosque in 1268, and it was endowed with its exquisite minaret in 1314.
Birket al-Anzia or Pool of St. Helena
One may take small boats around this underground cistern, built under the palace of Abbassid Caliph Haroun er-Rashid (766-809 AD). Note the pointed arch vaults – among the most ancient examples of this technique. This style was copied by the Crusaders and incorporated into the Gothic style of architecture.
Franciscan Church of St. Joseph of Arimathea
The Crusaders mistakenly identified Ramle as the Biblical site of Rama, the hometown of the saint, Joseph of Arimathea, and so they built a church here in his honour. According to the New Testament (John 19:38-42), St. Joseph of Arimathea, with Nicodemus, laid Jesus’ crucified body in a tomb. Today’s church is on the site of the mediaeval church. Napoleon slept in the adjacent St. Joseph and St. Nicodemus Hospice in 1799, before his conquest of Jaffa. Local tradition has it that Napoleon had the muezzin of the nearest mosque executed because he woke him, when calling the faithful to the morning prayer (sala’t al-fajer). The adjacent monastery dates from 1750 AD. It served in July 1948 as refuge for those citizens of the town who were almost the only ones not to have been chased out and forced to flee from Ramle.
The White Mosque
The minaret of the White Mosque, or the Square Tower, always fulfilled both religious and military functions. A superb lookout tower (open during prayer times, modest dress mandatory, long sleeves and covered legs), its view encompasses the entire surrounding plain, as far as the Mediterranean. The minaret was built in 1318 by Mameluke Sultan Nasser ed-Din Ibn Qalaoun (1309-1340). As Ramle declined under the Ottomans, the White Mosque, an Umayyad monument hitherto often restored, progressively disintegrated. However, several original archways are still intact. Islamic property (as is the cemetery next door), the Israeli authorities confiscated the land and monument as “abandoned property.” Although Jewish archaeologists have conducted digs here since then, no restoration work at all has been undertaken. The cemetery, declared “non-transferable property of the Jewish people,” is today a vacant lot used as a public rubbish dump, more or less sanctioned by the authorities. The minaret remains the only building still preserved, a contemporary symbol of the city’s “desecration,” a symbol crowned by a Jewish ritual emblem, a menora. (The menora is the multi-branched ceremonial candelabrum, especially used at Hanukka, and also found on Israeli coins, Roman artefacts or wall-inscriptions - such as in the Beit She’arim catacombs, and used as a state symbol.) Whilst no effort has been made to restore or reinforce the White Mosque, it must be said that a tiled floor recently installed at the base of the minaret is in the worst possible taste.
The Soreq Caves
The Soreq caves are in the Absalom Nature Reserve. An interesting diorama explains the geological formation of the site, especially stalagmite and stalactite formations inside the caves. Besides, the lovely scenery makes it a perfect place for highly enjoyable country rambles.
Monastery of our Lady of the Assumption and St. Bruno (Beit Gemal) Monastery
The monastery was founded at the end of the nineteenth century by the Salesian order. Like the Trappists of Latroun (Latrun), the Salesians started an agricultural school, which provided the manpower necessary for vineyards. The school closed in 1948 for lack of students and replaced the vines with olive trees, which are less labour intensive except during the harvest. The estate provides a wonderful opportunity for highly agreeable walks. From the rooftop of the monastery, one may appreciate the serenity of the surroundings. What has equally made the monastery’s reputation: many visitors come here to taste the much-vaunted Cremisan wines produced by the Salesian monastery in Beit Jala. Three institutions are represented in this compound, in different buildings: two male orders (Silesian and Monial) and a female order of Moniale nuns, the Nuns of Bethlehem, of the Assumption of the Virgin and of St. Bruno. The latter are famous for the beautiful quality and distinctive Palestinian designs on ceramics they produce in their workshops, together with local Palestinian women as part of the workforce; their gift shop, set in these delightful surroundings, provides a wide range of charming articles, well worth a visit for connoisseurs.
Nazareth is the largest Palestinian urban area in Israel and the largest city in the Galilee, with a population of more than 65,000 (CBS) citizens, (60% Muslim and 40% Christian).
It was a city where many took refuge in 1948, and today nearly half its citizens are internally displaced persons (some 30,000 people). The refugees have settled around the suburbs of the city, where they are sometimes grouped by their village of origin, such as villagers from Saffuriya, who live in the Safafra neighbourhood on the slopes of Nazareth. From where they live, they have a direct view onto the forest that covers the ruins of Saffuriya.
The density of Nazareth’s population is particularly high: although there are 70,000 residents today compared to 14,000 in 1948, the area of the municipality has not expanded at all. Moreover, 1,500 hectares were confiscated to create the Jewish municipality of Upper Nazareth (Nazrat Illit). Government authorities or authorities close to the government (the Jewish National Fund and the Jewish Agency, for example) as well as regional councils, constantly express “concern” over the concentration of Palestinians in the Galilee and the influence of Nazareth, which naturally became the capital of the Palestinian community inside Israel. The reality is that the policy of judaising the Galilee systematically affected Nazareth by forcing it to suffer economic underdevelopment and overpopulation. This policy aimed at preventing any geographical contiguity between Nazareth’s outlying suburbs (Ein Mahel, Kufr Kana, Mash’ad, Reineh and others).
Israeli policies also tried to limit any growth of the municipal territory of Nazareth and its Arab suburbs, as well as general economic growth, by denying land for industrial development; essentially, it was intended to regulate the demographics of the region.
This policy was the reason for the establishment of a second urban centre named Upper Nazareth or Nazrat Illit. Dominating the ancient town, it was created in 1957 above it as its Jewish double, intended to be the new economic and administrative capital of the Galilee. Upper Nazareth has not ceased since its creation to expand to the detriment of Nazareth and its neighbouring Arab suburbs, which in other circumstances would have joined Nazareth to form one large, single agglomeration. Upper Nazareth numbers some 40,000 residents. In the 1990s, the city’s population considerably soared with the arrival of waves of Jews from the ex-Soviet republics. Still, the success of this policy of judaisation of the Nazareth region was mitigated in the eyes of Israeli planners by the fact that, above all, Upper Nazareth’s population is elderly: 58% of its residents are aged between 45 and 65, as opposed to only 20% in Nazareth.
The alarmist appeals of Zionist demographers are all the more virulent in warning against another trend: many Palestinians from Nazareth have moved to Upper Nazareth (approximately 6,000 people, representing 15% of the Jewish municipality’s population), and they are young, with a higher birth rate than the Jewish residents. The discriminatory nature of the Jewish municipality is again evident in the absence of schools and cultural or religious centres for the Arab sector, even though it represents 15% of the population of Upper Nazareth.
The government has put Upper Nazareth high on its list of priorities. It is officially in the first category of “development priority areas.” Ninety-nine percent of constructions in Upper Nazareth belong to the government, subsidised by the Ministry of Planning & Infrastructure. Upper Nazareth has four times more land than Nazareth at its disposal, for half the number of people; its land was confiscated from land belonging to Nazareth and its suburbs, already cruelly in need of more room. At the present rate of population growth in Nazareth, there will not be enough urban space within 15 years. Lack of space for economic expansion is already a problem today. In fact, the unemployment rate is one of the highest in Israel (14% of the active population, without taking into account the low rate of women who are part of the work force). Work opportunities for this largely working class population are restricted to the Jewish industrial zones established outside the city borders after the Oslo accords (Upper Nazareth and Karmiel, for example), on Nazareth land. Most residents of Upper Nazareth work inside the city’s borders. It is an unavoidable fact that the government’s development plan for Upper Nazareth endowed it with a vast industrial zone of over 50 hectares, while Nazareth does not have more than 8 hectares for industrial use in the centre of town. What is worse, the Upper Nazareth industrial zone of Tzipporit, which constitutes an actual enclave of Upper Nazareth, stands on lands confiscated from the Arab locality of Mash’ad. This area between Mash’ad and Kufr Kana is a 34-hectare collection of polluting factories. Upper Nazareth profits well from these industries, while sparing itself from any of the disagreeable aspects they represent. Upper Nazareth owns another similar enclave in the very centre of Nazareth, a few minutes from the Basilica of the Annunciation: since 1960, the military centre of command for the Northern District has been located here, as well as a tourist complex (Nazareth Gardens Hotel, formerly the Sprinzak Restaurant).
The Palestinian town of Ein Mahel, which once fell within the city’s boundaries, is another example of Israeli urban planning. It, too, has become totally constricted on all sides by the municipal territory of Upper Nazareth, which has confiscated most of its land to boost its own land reserves. Today, an additional 140 hectares are also threatened with confiscation.
Excluding Palestinian Nazareth from any administrative or political function, all government institutions and services have been moved to Upper Nazareth, where one finds departments of the Ministry of the Interior, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, the Nazareth District Court and so on. Administrative buildings have also been constructed on private property in Nazareth, invoking “the public interest” and then subsequently placed under the jurisdiction of Upper Nazareth.
Things to see
The Old City
A highly multicultural city, Nazareth boasts a diversity of religions, exemplified by its religious sites: mosques, churches and monasteries, which are as much places of pilgrimage for pilgrims and visitors as uncontested attractions. If religious architecture has left its mark, it has not hidden the secular buildings from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, which are also of architectural interest. Impressive residences today tell of the privileged economic position of important citizens in Nazareth’s past; a characteristic of these buildings is that they have storage areas reserved on their ground floors, while the upper levels, reserved for living quarters, are enhanced by three beautiful archway openings. Notice the hand-carved wooden friezes, sometimes painted, under their eaves. There is now a renewed interest in this architectural heritage. One of these beautiful houses (in the process of restoration) is located near the Saraya. It will soon house a cinema and, without doubt, one of the most beautiful cafés in the city. Other public and private initiatives are equally contributing to the re-establishment of the old city’s architectural value. The Saraya of Daher al-Omar, Governor of Galilee, constructed in circa 1730 AD, is currently being renovated and will serve as the municipal museum. Nearby, the Café Casa Palestina, located in the former storage area of a bourgeois house of the eighteenth century and earlier, is a delightful place to take a break. At the top of Casa Nova Street, a gate provides access to the street market (open every day except Sunday). Thursday is the main market day. In the market, one finds the oldest mosque of Nazareth, the White Mosque (Masjid al-Abyad), which was built in 1812. Farther along, a warren of small pedestrian alleyways allows one to explore at a more leisurely pace. As in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, many different Christian churches are represented in Nazareth. Each church or monastery has been built on the site of older buildings and traditions, dating from more or less ancient times. The Sisters of Nazareth Convent built over a Jewish necropolis, contains an excellent example of a vault closed by a rolling millstone. In the centre of the market (souk), is the Church of the Synagogue (a Greek Catholic church), being the synagogue where Jesus preached and was driven out (Luke 4:16-30). Mary’s Well or the Fountain of Mary, on al-Hanuq Street, is another important location for Christian pilgrims. St. Gabriel’s Greek Orthodox Church is sited where the Angel Gabriel appeared to Mary while she was drawing water from the well (and not in her home as Catholic tradition has it). The church is built on Byzantine and Crusader foundations. In its crypt, one may see Armenian tiles dating from the twelfth century. The iconostasis - the screen that hides the altar from view - decorated with icons and holy pictures, equally merits particular attention.
St. Joseph’s Church
This church, built in 1914 on the remains of a Crusader church, but with more modest dimensions, is an inviting place for meditation and prayer. There are several caves underneath it, one of which is said to be St. Joseph’s workshop (according to a tradition dating from the seventeenth century, shared by the Sisters of Nazareth Convent and St. Gabriel’s Church).
Nazareth’s Ancient Bathhouse
The remains of the only existing public bathhouse in Nazareth were uncovered by chance in 1993. The water for the bathhouse no doubt came from Mary’s Well, since it was the only available water source in ancient times. The site contains artefacts dating not only from the Ottoman and Crusader period, but back to Byzantine and ancient Roman times as well. Today, one can enjoy guided tours of the caldarium, the most beautiful hypocaust in the Middle East and the praefurnarium (stove) at the site. Refreshments in the arched hall of the wooden cave, where exhibitions are presented, are also available.
A fortified city in the first century BC, Saffuriya was raised to the status of administrative capital of the Galilee shortly after the Roman conquest of Palestine. Herod Antipas inherited it from his father after the Romans put down a revolt stirred up by the old Hasmonean nobility. He built the city of Sepphoris on the ruins of the town and called it “the jewel of the Galilee.” A cosmopolitan city, it welcomed the oriental, Graeco-Roman and Jewish religions which flourished side by side. The fortress was made into a kuttab (primary school) at the end of the nineteenth century and later became a school. Among its illustrious citizens, Saffuriya can claim Jamal Ibn Abdel Hadi al-Saffuri (1436-1503), historian and theologian, who was the teacher of historian Ibn Tulun. In 1944, Suffuriya was the most important village in the district of Nazareth, having a population of over 4,330 inhabitants (4,320 Muslims and 10 Christians).
The remains of the Palestinian village are lost under a pine forest planted by the Jewish National Fund (in the context of the campaign: Plant a Tree in Israel). The forest is dedicated to the Independence of Guatemala (September 15, 1821). In Moshav Zippori there remain only a few ruins of Palestinian houses and a Catholic convent of Saint Hannah. The convent was built in the 1920s on property put at the disposal of the nuns by the Islamic waqf. The people of Saffuriya have been fighting for restitution of their lands for over fifty years. Their efforts have been partly concentrated on the protection and restoration of burial sites and holy places.
The site of Sepphoris
Large areas of this ancient site have been excavated. Among the most impressive finds are the superb mosaic floors which decorated homes and places of worship. The symbolic figure “Mona Lisa of the Galilee” retains one’s attention. Likewise to be seen at the site is the Citadel, dating from Crusader times, which now houses an exhibition centre.
Surrounded by hills and olive groves, Sakhnin (25,000 residents) is a good place to start a country hike. During the olive harvest (mid-October to beginning of November), there is an olive oil festival (Ghazzal Abu Raya, Sakhnin municipality). In the middle of the village is the Palestinian Folk Museum. It has an interesting painting of a traditional village and its social organisation. There is also a floor dedicated to handicrafts (glass from Hebron, mother-of-pearl boxes from Beit Sahour and olive-wood statuettes from Bethlehem) as well as hand-embroidered Palestinian dresses.
This village is the site of Jesus’ first miracle, His transformation of water into wine for the wedding feast of Cana (John 2:1-11). Christian pilgrimages have been recorded here since the third century AD. When there was a renewal of Christian pilgrimages from the West, the Franciscans built the Church of the Wedding Feast in 1879. The Greek Orthodox Church nearby displays the very water jars in which the miracle took place. A village of over 10,000 residents, both Christian and Muslim, Kufr Kana also includes a small Circassian community which settled in Palestine in the nineteenth century.
Like Jabal al-Sheikh (Mount Hermon), which one can see from here on a clear day, as well as Lake Tiberias, Mount Tabor (588 metres) has been considered a sacred mountain since ancient times (Deuteronomy 19:33). Due to its proximity to Nazareth, this “high mountain” is naturally accepted as the site of extraordinary events in the life of Jesus of Nazareth, such as the site of the Transfiguration of Christ. Two churches crown its summit: the Greek Orthodox Church of St.Elijah (closed to the public) and the Franciscan Basilica, which is accessed through the entrance to the Ayyubid Fortress, Bab al-Hawa (Gateway of the Wind).
This town, known by the Greeks as Besara, was at the heart of territory belonging to Berenice, a descendant of Herod the Great. From the second century AD onwards, it was one of the most important centres of Judaism and the seat of the Jewish ecclesiastical hierarchy, banished from Jerusalem after the revolt of 135 AD.
Archaeologists have uncovered a huge network of catacombs here, with 31 exposed tombs on view: today they are the principal attraction of the site. A hundred metres southeast of the basilica, Wali (Saint) Abreik Mosque is the only building remaining of a Palestinian village, demolished in 1948.
Tel Megiddo (Armageddon)
From its geographical position, the civilisations of Mesopotamia and Egypt contributed to Tel Megiddo’s cultural, philosophical, religious and technical heritage. Many battles between local and regional powers were fought over it. In the Book of the Revelation of St. John the Divine, it also became the scene of the ultimate battle between good and evil.
People to meet
Arab Cultural Association The heritage of Palestinian Arab Israelis is absent from the Israeli school curriculum or distorted or devalued in every aspect - cultural, geographical, historical and literary. To counter this, a group of activists created this cultural association in 1998, to promote and re-affirm the cultural and national identity of Israeli Palestinians of 1948 and equally to promote egalitarian, democratic values and social justice. The centre is active in many areas, including providing scholarships for schoolchildren, workshops where discussions take place, focusing on identity, literature, the media and so on, as well as artistic exhibitions. Similar aims as the Arab Cultural Association’s aims are expressed by an Israeli peace organisation Zochrot [“Remembering”], which is dedicated to teaching Israelis their true history, by marking the sites of all demolished Palestinian villages and holding joint memorial services at such sites as Deir Yassin; they believe that peace and reconciliation will only come between the two nations once Israelis understand, acknowledge and apologise with full reparations for their past treatment of Palestinians.
Arab Association for Human Rights This association is an important source of information for any study of the status of the Palestinian Arab community in Israel and the various forms of discrimination it faces. It was established in 1988 by a group of lawyers and human rights activists to advocate all rights of the Palestinian Israeli minority (which forms 20% of the population of the State of Israel): it therefore defends all their civil, political, economic, cultural, religious or other rights. Besides providing general information, the association organises visits lasting from an hour to a day, on different themes, including the Galilee, the Triangle and the Negev. These include: ‘A comparative visit to Nazareth and Upper Nazareth,’ ‘Demolished villages,’ ‘Unrecognised villages in the Galilee and Negev,’ or ‘The situation of Palestinians in mixed towns.’
Association for Prisoners and Friends of Detainees This association was created in 1989 to support Palestinian political prisoners being held in Israel: it provides legal and material aid to prisoners and their families. The longest-serving political prisoner, Sami Younis, has just been released, having been in prison since 1982 (serving life imprisonment). Most Palestinian Israelis are jailed in Shatta Prison (near Bissan) with Syrians from the Golan and Palestinians from Jerusalem. This system of separating these individuals from prisoners from the West Bank and Gaza corresponds with Israel’s formal annexation of the Golan on December 14, 1981, and East Jerusalem, on July 30, 1980, as permanent additions to the territory of the State of Israel.
Where to Eat
Nargila wa’ Oud is a good café to relax in and smoke a water pipe. There are always musicians on Friday and Saturday evenings.
Casa Palestina cultural café-restaurant. It is situated in an ancient home, whose vaulted storerooms are warm and welcoming; one can buy a variety of Palestinian handicrafts from the display here.
Nadaf al-Pasha is also located in the antique storerooms of an eighteenth century middle-class house and has a spacious setting with a view of the street.
Abu Dukhul (also known as the Diana Restaurant) is one of the best. Palestinian specialities such as mezzés or grilled meat.
Fontana di Maria Palestinian specialities such as mezzés or grilled meat.
al-Mulino Pizzeria has both good decor and superior cooking but is relatively expensive.
Young people prefer Mary’s Well Pizza for its atmosphere rather than its setting.
Where to sleep
St. Margaret’s Hostel, Salesian Streethas a splendid view over the roofs of the Old City. Its tastefully renovated rooms and its outdoor café restaurant add to its charm.
St. Gabriel Hotel Salesian Streetalso offers a fine view and its bell tower provides a reliable landmark. The rooms are simple; on the garden side, they have large bay windows looking out over the town. The hotel has been classically renovated.
The Convent of the Sisters of Nazareth runs a hospice (Casa Nova Street.
The Hotel Galileo, Paul VI Street is located to the south of the Church of the Annunciation.
Pre-1948, the Bedouin populations of the Negev were more often known as Arabs of Bir es-Saba’ or Beersheba (Arab es-saba’). Even the Bedouins called themselves arab and not bedu (Bedouins), and referred to Arab peasants in the area as fellahin (peasants). Bedu, which means “inhabitants of the desert,” was a term used more by the peasants to describe them. In 1946, the estimated number of Bedouins in the Negev ranged from 57,000 to 95,500, belonging to 96 different tribes. At the time, a pastoral, semi-nomadic lifestyle was still the main way of life, although the majority of the population was already involved in dry agriculture, and some men worked in road construction or building other infrastructure developed by the British. When the area came under Turkish control at the end of the nineteenth century, its pacification and the creation of international borders contributed to the progressive sedenterisation of the Bedouin, who dedicated themselves to farming and developing commercial ties with the merchants of Gaza. The Zionist conquest of 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel at that time triggered upheavals and brutal traumas for this population. Today’s Bedouin talk of how the British had offered them a protectorate, similar to Kuwait, which the Bedouin refused, thinking that they could live on good terms with the Jews – and expecting that any troubles would only be manifested in sticks and stones, whereas armoured personnel carriers, tanks and other warfare came to conquer. One of the first things the Palmach fighters did was confiscate the water wells, which until then had always been under the authority of the sheikhs, and which had thereby consecrated their power. In one fell swoop, the tribal system was broken down, and the sheikhs lost their traditional role and power.
In 1953, the number of Bedouins remaining in the Negev was estimated at only 11,000 people; all others had been expelled by Israeli troops or had fled to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, or Sinai. Those who remained in the Negev were forced to live in a closed area to the north and east of Beersheba, known as the “Siyag” (Arabic for “fence”), an area representing only 10% of the Negev Desert. This zone, like all zones populated by Arabs in the new Jewish state, was subject to military administration until 1966. The land of those who had fled the Negev was confiscated until, by the end of the 1950s, the new state had succeeded in appropriating over 90% of all land in the Negev, including 50% of the closed zone, or Siyag. Until 1966, the Bedouins were regrouped into 19 tribes, which were hastily created and then transformed into different administrative units led by “sheikhs” appointed by the military government. Excluded from the Israeli work force, the Bedouins were forced to restrict themselves to animal breeding and agriculture; as for some privileged people who had lived in Beersheba or in stone houses, they were forced to return once again to life under tents or in shacks.
In the space of 50 years, the Bedouins who stayed in the Negev have witnessed profound upheavals. Their lifestyle and economic activities have become increasingly urban, oriented around paid employment in surrounding cities. Civil administrations that have taken the place of the military regime have, since the late 1980s, steadily given more autonomy to the Bedouins in the new Israeli townships, which have thus played a role in developing an elite class and thereby totally undermining traditional hierarchies. Today the tribe (‘ashîra) has only symbolic value; the relevant socio-political unit today is patrilineal (â‘ila). Members of the immediate family maintain firm solidarity with each other in matters of honour and the family’s social status, on the basis of family genealogy. Nevertheless, even when extended families of the same lineage remain as economic units, their mutual support system loses its significance with their society’s increased access to the social welfare system. The Bedouins of the Negev have developed new practices, ideas, and ways of organising, very different to those practised pre-1948. Their integration into Israeli society operates only in a model of spatial, economic and social segregation. The fact that some individuals have chosen to settle in Beersheba does not change the fact that Bedouins live there completely separated from the Jews, who make up 75% of the total population of the sub-district of Beersheba. Even if they have daily contact with their Jewish neighbours in the context of economic activities, these contacts are always maintained as relationships of subordination. Although the standard of living for the Bedouin community may have improved in the last fifty years, it remains one of the lowest levels in the country, compared to the national average income: 50% of all families and 60% of all children live below the poverty line. A survey carried out by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics at the beginning of the year 2000 revealed that the seven new recognised Bedouin townships were the poorest of all the 200 population centres listed in the Negev, and have the highest unemployment rate in Israel, whilst various Jewish towns in the suburbs of Beersheba, such as Omer, were listed amongst the richest. Even more importantly, the once sustainable Bedouin culture and lifestyle, living successfully in desert, is threatened with extinction. In days of increased global warming, extreme weather conditions and desertification, ongoing Israeli efforts to “civilise” this sophisticated culture, derived from thousands of years of wisdom, is tragic. The current plan, The Prawer Plan, threatens some 70,000 or more Bedouin in the Naqab, or Negev, with forced displacement; at present, a campaign is underway to resist that forced transfer.
Things to see
Beersheba (Bir es Saba’)
The city of Bir es-Saba’ was established by the Ottoman authorities in 1900 for administrative reasons. The Bedouin sheikhs of the region, wise and pragmatic, were not slow to settle there, in order to be closer to the authorities. It was also during this period that the first stone constructions appeared among the Bedouin, as storage places for agricultural products and then later as dwellings. Farms were also built in the 1920s and ’30s in the northwest Negev; yet these constructions remained in the hands of a privileged minority. The Partition Plan of 1947 recommended that Beersheba be administered by an Arab state, but Israeli military forces conquered the town on October 20, 1948.
The city today is an essentially Jewish cosmopolitan city (comprising over 70 ethnicities) and has more than 185,000 residents. The founding of a university in the Negev, in 1969, had the desired effect of making Beersheba one of the principal Israeli urban areas. The university was named The Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, after David Ben-Gurion, a leading Zionist leader and the first prime minister of the State of Israel; he had a residence at Kibbutz Sde Boker (50 kms south of Beersheba), to which he retired and where he died in 1973.
The old city
Beersheba is a relatively spread-out and airy city with many large stately residences that were taken over in 1948 by Roumanian and Moroccan Jewish immigrants. Several historic buildings in the Old City have been conserved, although often dwarfed by contemporary buildings. At the junction of Ha’azmaut (Independence) Street and Herzl Street, the Governor’s residence houses the Israeli Museum of the Negev. Opposite the Governor’s house is the house of ’Aref al-’Aref (a Palestinian historian), built in 1938. It has been transformed these days into a coffee house and soft drinks café. Continuing up Ha’azmaut Street, one arrives at the Bir Es-Saba’ Mosque, built in 1901. Since October 1948, it has been declared “the inalienable property of the Jewish people,” and Moslems are prohibited from entering it. Since the 1970s, the Muslim community has been claiming it, but the Israeli authorities refuse to give it up for “reasons of security,” giving as a reason that the minaret has a view over a military base on the other side of Ha’azmaut Street. Since Beersheba was the regional capital of the Negev, under the Ottomans a market was established in the city as a weekly meeting place. Every Thursday (yom il-khamis), the Bedouin districts of Gaza and Hebron would gather there to sell their products, and attend Friday prayers in the mosque the next day. The size of the area then set aside for the trade in livestock suggests the past importance of pastoral production in the region. The Bedouin covered market (on the Hebron Road; open 6:00-1300) today has nothing in common with it except its name. Until the First Intifada, villagers and Bedouins from the Negev, the Gaza Strip and Hebron ensured the liveliness of the place and the supply of a wide variety of merchandise. Today, the market provides only feeble interest. The Thursday market still offers an opportunity to acquire various handicrafts labelled “Bedouin,” which are actually mostly produced in the villages of the Hebron region. It is preferable to get there at dawn to get the best bargains; prices are generally higher than in Hebron, but still less than in tourist shops in other towns.
The oldest traces of human occupation here date back to the Chalcolithic Age (fourth millennium BC), but the ruins seen today may be ascribed to the Iron Age. According to biblical tradition, the name Bir es–Saba’(“the well of the seven”) originates from the seven ewes Abraham gave to King Abimelech in return for his hospitality (Genesis 21:22-34). A fortified town was built here during the reign of King David, circa 1000 BC, and then apparently destroyed at the time of the incursion by Pharaoh Shishak in 925 BC. Thanks to its strategic position on the trans-Arabian trade route, on which Gaza was the principal terminus, the small city revived and prospered until its destruction by the Assyrians. Situated on the edge of the desert, the site’s fortress was an outpost for the Arab kingdoms to the north (in those day, semi-nomads), and a frontier for the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman empires to the south. Large areas of the site have been excavated, and it offers a relatively complete picture of a small administrative city in the Iron Age, with its triple tenaille gate (attributed to the beginning of the tenth century BC), its warehouses, streets and four-room houses. At the eastern end of the city, a monumental quadrangular well allowed water to be stored as a safeguard in case of siege. Although unaesthetic, the observation tower on the hill affords a wide panorama of the surrounding plains, while the small museum describes the utilisation of the semi-desert environment in ancient times.
Rahat, Lagiyya … recognised townships
In the 1960s, the Israeli authorities decided to urbanise the Bedouins. This policy was motivated by the desire of the State of Israel for more land in order to develop projects for the unique benefit of the Jewish population. Officially, the authorities presented this policy as a means of giving the Bedouins access to “modern” resources and services, claiming that it was not feasible to provide them to a scattered population. The first two recognised new townships to be established, designed by anthropologists who failed to involve the Bedouin in the designs, were Tel es-Saba’ in 1965 and Rahat in 1970. During the 1980s, five other new townships were inaugurated in the following order: Ksifa (Kuseifa) and ‘Ar`ara, Shgib as-Salam (Shgeib as-Salam or Segev Shalom), then Hura and Lagiyya (Lakiya). Most of these recognised townships are failures and the Bedouins (whose total number in the Negev today is over 200,000) have refused to settle in them; their reticence comes, above all, from the fear that their lands will be confiscated if they stop living on them, and nothing in the difficult social and economic aspects of life in the new townships appeals to them. Even though the Israelis have resorted to repeated, ongoing intimidation to “persuade” them to move: large-scale confiscation of livestock, house demolitions in unrecognised villages and wanton crop destruction (including regular aerial spraying with Monsanto’s chemical “Roundup” to destroy crops until the Supreme Court banned it, at which the State then proceeded to destroy crops by ploughing the wheat fields), despite all this terrorising, only half of the Negev’s Bedouins have settled in the new townships. In some of those townships, there are schools without running water in their taps, and when the community of Wadi al Na’am, an unrecognised village, went to the Supreme Court to petition for an additional school, the State’s solution was simply to put a wall down the middle of the existing school, to suggest that the there were two schools.
A recent government plan for the development of the Negev, the Prawer Plan and the Begin Plan which has developed from it, have proved equally controversial; whilst the government has pledged increased funding for Bedouin townships to entice the Bedouins into them, nothing has actually been done to ameliorate their real needs, whether in employment, education, municipal facilities, health services, work opportunities, industrial zoning or other infrastructure. The government’s intentions to grab more land have been fairly transparent, since it has committed much of the increased budget to beefing up the Green Patrol and other police forces whose agenda is to prevent the Bedouins from regaining their own land! House demolitions recently have become so widespread that they are no longer newsworthy; the authorities have even recently set up a department devoted solely to this issue. Houses are demolished because they are built without building permits, but the government refusal to give permits forces most Bedouin (and Palestinians elsewhere, especially in East Jerusalem) into unwilling criminality.
Moreover, when the Israeli settlements in Gaza were evacuated by Israel, many of those settlers relocated to the nearby Negev, thus putting the already vulnerable Bedouins under even more pressure. There is even a group of settlers from the South Hebron Hills who have been living surreptitiously in the Yattir Forest, waiting for Bedouin to be moved off their lands at ’Atir, so that they may develop a new Jewish community in their place.
Today, the recognised townships are bedroom suburbs on the outskirts of Beersheba. Rahat, with a population of 30,000, is the most important township, while Lagiyya has a scant 4,000 residents. The infrastructure here is totally inadequate and is in no way adapted to the needs of the population. There is distressingly little business or industrial activity or zoning and planning for industry. This lack of business activity, coupled with the low level of qualified manpower, make the population dependent on economic centres controlled by the Jewish population of the surrounding cities, and the Bedouins are particularly vulnerable to economic recession. During the late 1990s, the unemployment rate reached 29% for men and 83% for women. Bedouins serve in the Israeli army and police force, often for want of an alternative income, although their strong traditions make them excellent soldiers and trackers.
Massada is both the name given to a spectacular mountain dominating the Dead Sea, and also the name of the citadel initially built here by Alexander Yannai in the first century BC. It is on this mountain that Herod the Great built one of his majestic palace-fortresses. Abandoned now, the site served as a refuge during the years 66 BC to 73 BC for a Jewish messianic sect (Sicarii) who took their name from their dagger, the sica. It took an army of thousands of Roman soldiers and months of siege to capture the citadel; according to Flavius Josephus (the sole source for this event), the zealots preferred collective suicide to execution or slavery. The episode is recorded in a speech attributed to Elazar, leader of the Sicarii, who, having recognised the defeat as divine retribution, declared: “Let us not receive this punishment from the Romans, but from God himself, by executing ourselves with our own hands.” (The War of the Jews against the Romans 7:333.) This story is, however, considered by most historians as pure rhetoric inspired by the tragic Graeco-Roman tradition. In the fourth and fifth centuries, monks settled in Massada and built a church there. In whatever manner the zealots or Sicarii met their death, Massada has since 1948 become a national religious symbol of the State of Israel, where soldiers of certain elite units of the army take a solemn oath: “Massada shall not fall again.” The Massada Complex, similar to the Samson Complex, is also something that Israeli peace activists register as one of the characteristics of the Israeli psyche: an extremist position that is not open to pragmatism or negotiation, but would rather commit suicide or bring down the Temple, rather than admit defeat or compromise.
The Old City was the heart of the Palestinian town until 1948. Today, it is a seaside tourist resort. You can easily recognize the old houses built of basalt, a material found in abundance locally, which gives the town its special charm. The historical remains of the town are extremely modest and simple. The main ruins found at the entrance to the town are the eighteenth century ramparts. Designed with semi-circular towers, they were built circa1738 by Daher al-Omar, governor of the Galilee. The best-preserved part of the wall is at the south end of the Old City, where it leads to the Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Apostles. The monastery was built in 1863 on the ruins of a church dating from the third or fourth century AD. (It is usually closed to the public but if you ring at the gate, you may be allowed to visit it.) Continuing on the promenade, one comes to the al-Masjid al-Bahri (Mosque of the Sea). This mosque was built in 1880, but worship has been forbidden here since 1948. To the north is the Great Mosque or al-Omari Mosque, which also dates from the renaissance of Tiberias in the eighteenth century and which has also been closed since 1948. This is the best-preserved and most elegant historical and religious edifice in Tiberias, but has never benefited from any specific restoration project. Even worse, it was ransacked by the Israelis in October 2000. Since then, the Israeli authorities (the municipality and Ministry of the Interior, which is responsible for all Islamic property) have done nothing to restore it. Its neighbour, St. Peter’s Church (open Monday-Friday, entry free), commemorates the Miracle of the Fishes (John 21). Built in 1870 on the remains of a Crusader church, an extension was added in the first half of the twentieth century. Two hundred metres farther along on Dona Grazia Street are ruins of a Crusader Fortress (Dona Grazia Street; open every day 10:00-13:00 & 17:00-19:00, NIS 8 entrance fee), also known as The Citadel. The three-storey castle constructed in basalt was rebuilt by Daher al-Omar, who made it his headquarters. The Citadel has recently been restored by a local artist, who has opened an art gallery and a restaurant inside it.
Things to see
These hot springs, rich in sodium and magnesium, were famous for their healing properties even in ancient times. Their existence was the deciding factor for Herod Antipas when he chose Tiberias as his capital. The Great Bathhouse, built in 1830 under Abdallah Jazzar, is now the Lehman Museum, dedicated to the geomorphologic origin of the hot springs and the history of the Tiberias spas. The most impressive archaeological antiquity here is the mosaic floor of a fourth century Byzantine synagogue. On the opposite side of the road, there is a thermal complex: The Tiberias Hot Springs, which offers a full range of therapeutic and modern recreational facilities.
The Horns of Hittin
The two peaks are the remnants of the interior of an ancient, extinct volcano. The large, fertile valleys served from time immemorial as a commercial way for caravans of merchants and, sometimes, armies. Several well-known Arab personalities lived in the village here: the Sheikh of Hittin, the historian al-Ansari ed-Damashqi (in the fourteenth century), and Ali al-Dawadari, a writer, commentator on the Quran and calligrapher, who died in the village in 1302.
In 1944, the village had a population of 1,190 residents who essentially lived off cultivating cereals and fruit trees (especially olives).