Always seeking to increase our knowledge of Israel’s tourist sites we tour guides take refresher tours form time to time.
Recently I joined a group of my colleagues on an in depth tour of the famous ancient port city of Acco on Israel’s northern coast. Acco is a gem of history, archaeology and folk lore From the ancient Egyptians, to the Maccabees. Maimonides,Richard Lion Heart, Napoleon , the the Jewish underground fighters break out from the British “Bastille” and the victorious Israeli army of 1967; Acco has seen them all and its winding old street and alleys and picturesque fishing port seem eager to tell their story.
Before I go any further, let me highly recommend a visit to the former Turkish/British prison – fortress where the Jewish underground fighters of the Irgun and the Lechi were imprisoned and nine of them hanged by the British occupation museum now offers a state of the art series of presentations that ,using the back drop of the actual prison locations offer a wonderful dramatic, reenactment and explanation of the events and the “zeit geist
A hand full of determined young men and women defeated the British empire and won their people’s independence for the first time in two thousand years. Not a bad story Line. If you are a movie goer you may remember how in “Cast a giant shadow”,Paul Newman ran along the roofs as he blew a hole in the prison walls
But our story does not begi with Hollywood. Archaeology has uncovered remains from the times or Alexander the great as he used Acco port to dislodge the Persians, Yonatan the Maccabee was murdered by his supposed Greek hosts and buried near the “Land gate “ of Acco. Roman remains from the time when the Legions entered the land through Acco on their way to suppressing the great Jewish revolt and eventually destroying the Temple in Jerusalem
The most extensive unearthing are by far those of the Crusader kingdom
When the horde of French and Italians suddenly appeared on the horizon it was too late for the Muslim defenders to put up a good enough fight. Acco was stormed by the knights of the Crusades in 1096 when Muslims and Jews fought and fell before the sword liberating the holy Land for Christendom. In 1099 Jerusalem was sacked.
When Saladin finally defeated the Crusades , Richard the Lion Heart was able to hang on to the port city of Acco for another fifty years until the last Crusader set sail for home.
It is this Crusader city that has been and is still being excavated in a truly impressive way. As later Mamluk and Ottoman residents built upon the Crusader ruins, the latter were allowed to sleep in the dust of time undisturbed until very recently
Hall after hall, secret escape tunnels Knights grand dining rooms -all as they looked when the swords and shields were gashing and pounding
With Saladin s ultimate victory over the western invaders, some famous Jewish luminaries came form the corners of the diaspora to make Acco their home. In fact Rabbi Yechial of Paris and a few hundred of the great “ba’ale tosafot” set up a yeshiva in Acco. Eventually the great Ramban – Nachmanadies became the head of the Torah school there
Maimonides entered into te land of Israel through Acco port and the spot where he set foot is named after him
Rabbi Nachman of Breslov actually found himself in Acco at not quite the best time. He had visited the Holy land and Jerusalem and was ready to depart form Acco when Napoleon just began his famous siege of the city. He escaped on a Muslim was ship and was given a gun to help in the battle against the French. Not what he had planned.
When Napoleon made his bid for Mid East conquest he tried to sway the Turkish governors key Jewish adviser to join him. He issued the French”Balfour declaration” in which he acknowledged the Jewish longing for their land and he agreed it was just to restore it t them after their long suffering and longing to come home. Napoleon promised to make it happen if he won. Chaim Farchi, the Pasha’s (Al Jazir -” the Butcher”) adviser would not betray his master. Napoleon lost the battle and Chaim Farchi was eventually executed by the Pasha’s heir. So much for loyalty. What if Napoleon Had indeed won..?… ..
The Ramchal and the Ohr Hachaim, two famous Jewish scholars made Acco their home in the eighteenth century. The synagogue named after the Ramchal is a lone Jewish out post in the other wise Arab Old city
In 1936 when the Arabs launched one of their rounds of pogroms as the British looked on, Acco’s jews fled , not to return until 1948 when it was liberated by the Israeli army. Many Arabs fled the fighting and Jews forced to flee their homes in Arab lands moved in. There were some wise Arabs did not flee the fighting and became Israeli citizens, the only Arabs in the Mid East enjoying who democracy and civil liberties.
In the last years the Arab population has been expanding to former Jewish neighborhoods and there have been some Arab riots and intimidation as a group of young Jews moved in around the Hesder Yeshiva in an attempt to stem the tide of Jewish flight form the city that is a treasure of Jewish history and martyrdom
On our tour, our Acco city employee told us that the forty artistic signs placed above Jewish land marks in the old city were torn all down by the “Muslim Movement of the Galilee” They were replaced with verses of the Koran and are undisturbed
. The latest battle for the city is being fought in the real estate offices. I had .occasion to look at a number of buildings in the “changing” , former solid Jewish areas. They fled Arabs in the old country and are doing the same in the “new country” It was an eerie site to see many apartments with the mezuzas torn off the door posts and pictures of Mecca in its place. This is the latest battle for Acco. No storming of the walls or cannon fire. It is in the real estate offices where the silent victory or defeat is determined. I was told by agents that Jews sell to any one in his desire to flee the “changing neighborhood
Just this week I heard on the radio the pathetic plea of a young Jewish other living in a “mixed” neighborhood in Acco.
Each time her children enter the play ground to play, Arab children with threatening dogs appear
demanding the courts for themselves. The Jewish attempts to share the space is met with increasing
The elderly are not spared either,
In the threats(sounds familiar?) .