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The Round Trip part 4: Turning the corner

From Haifa to the Lebanese border, but I mean all the way to the border, via two self proclaimed republics and a Persian paradise.

The train rolls north from Haifa, through an industrial hell I’d rather not describe, and I anyway already did, when passing here on the September Journey). I’m not staying here, I’m headed for a pretty place.

Outside the ancient city of Acre is the tomb of Bahá’u’lláh, the Persian-born founder of the Bahá’í faith. Bahá’u’lláh was brought to Acre as prisoner by the Ottomans and kept in a cell in the city’s grand crusader castle. He later moved to a house in the countryside, yet remained a prisoner and was forbidden to leave the disrict. He died here in 1892. The mansion was turned into a mausoleum and surrounded with splendid gardens in the best Bahá’i tradition.

After walking through sands the first day and visiting Atlit’s depressing barracks the second, I needed a garden, I needed to feast my eyes on the perfect flowers, fresh lawns and water fountains. Among the neatly cropped hedges I met American Bahá’i volunteer Jasmine, who arrived here ten months ago and is now looking forward with excitement to her first visit of Tel-Aviv. The Bahá’i elders forbid the faithful from living in this country, where both prophets of the faith are buried, and where its institutions are centered. Bahá’i may either come as pilgrims of volunteers. This way they avoid contributing to the Middle East conflict.

Outside the gardens, the communion with nature continues. Enormous eucalyptus trees line the road leading north, bringing out the tree hugger in me. Like Jasmine, they were also brought for a foreign land on a mission. Thirsty Australian gum trees such as these quickly drain swamps and reclaim agricultural land. Early Zionists recruited them to produce fields where no fields were before. This was before we discovered the gun, which can produce fields that are miraculously ready-plowed.

Zionist lore is rich with botanical symbolism. This is natural in an ideology that was born as a dream of a utopian agrarian society, but the poetry runs deeper. Think back to my comment about needing a garden after traveling excessively and visiting an interment camp. Who could blame the Jewish people for wanting to grow some cabbage and forget it all, like old emperor Diocletian?

This idea was bound to appeal to copycats, and it did. Inspired by the Jewish people, Israeli bohemian Eli Avivi and his wife Rina declared their own state just north of the city of Nahariya in 1962. Welcome to Achzib Land.

Essentially, Achzib Land consists of one large house sourrounded by several other structures, in the fashion of Armenian monasteries or Zoroastrian temples. It’s a nice house. Some of the structures are remains of the Palestinian village of Az-Zab, depopulated in 1948, so the state of Achzib has its own share of Nakba memories, just like its neighbor to the south, north and east (and actually to the west as well, since the nearby beach isn’t included in the Avivis’ domain), but at least this small, Hebrew-speaking country, never got itself mangled up in an occupation.

In fact, it’s where people go to seek peace. The Avivis run a guest house which has been a favorite with free spirits for over four decades. Their small country is indeed mostly a garden, equipped with a delightful coushioned swing, and many lovely grassy niches. Those are filled this evening tents. Holiday traffic has gone over the border and Eli and Rina are doing their best to cope. I decide not to trouble them with asking for my passport to be stamped (which I’ve seen them do).

Instead I go over to the edge of the property, which overlooks the beach, and take in the sunset. This is to be the last time on this trip I will see the sun set into the water. The Lebanese border is a cricket’s hop away. I plan to hit it early in the morning and turn east, but something goes wrong. My camera broke. Some mechanical thing, don’t even ask. I’m forced to head ten kilometers south, to Nahariya, and seek a camera store.

Nahariya is big enough to have three such stores, but none of them offer repair service. I would have to take the camera back to Tel Aviv, then wait between a week and a month for it to be returned. No go. A new one must be bought.

The bright side is how absolutely sweet the store crew is. They even offer that I take a bike belonging to one of them and take a tour of the town, while the battery is charging. Soon I peddle along the Ga’aton, a natural stream made to look like a drainage canal, thanks to questionable design concepts of the 1960s.

Nahariya itself was once an independent country too. The 1948 partition plan placed the border between Jewish and Arab-controlled territories just south of Acre. This town, then inhabited mostly by Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria, remained isolated. For a few weeks it was besieged, maintaining contact with Haifa by way of sea. Then the Palmach came and conquered the entire western Galilee surrounding it, as far as the mountains known as “The Ladder of Tyre,” which marked the post-1917 boundary between English and French control.

It’s time that I finally reached those mountains. I take one snapshot of the shopkeepers,

Then catch the bus up the coast, past the people’s republic of Achzib, to where the ladder of Tyre sticks out into the sea. This chalky cape, known in Hebrew as Rosh Hanikra, marks the ends of the earth for an Israeli. Beyond here no travel is possible.

The cape itself is a sponge of grottos, into which the sea gushes at will. A well developed tourist facility allows visitors to descend by cable car to a causeway, which once carried the now obviously disused Jaffa-Beirut railway. From there they may reach into the mountain. This is the first time in my life that I pay the entry fee and do so. I am disappointed that Lebanon is visible neither from the cable car nor the causeway.

The grottos would have been a compensation, but holiday rush hardly does justice with their subterranean/submarine magic. There’s also a Passover theme thing going on that doesn’t seem quite relevant. One of the guides, a woman, is dressed up as a bearded Moses and leads her people to freedom, or rather to congestion in moist tunnels. Illustrations of the ten plagues of Egypt are posted on the walls.

The plague of wild animals (“Arov”) gets a weird interpertation.

I emerge into the open air, only to find myself facing directly what I’ve been waiting for all this way up the coast: the border, or better still: a border crossing. There are only two of those along the Lebanese border, and neither is used by civilians today (The other one, at Metula, used to serve south Lebanese laborers, who would work in Israel while it controlled their region.)

This crossing, at Rosh Hanikra, has been the site of much drama. Most recently: The bodies of the two soldiers whose capture spurred the war in 2006 were returned here by Hezbollah, in return for the release of Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. The Israelis did not know what state the soldiers would be in, and when the coffins appeared an entire nation reacted with shock and anger.

I can’t help, however, but think about another container that once passed here, one that does not even remotely resemble a coffin. In Tom Friedman’s “From Beirut to Jerusalem,” he describes arriving at this gate in the 80s with unusual gear. “The Christian and Shiite militiamen who stopped me at the checkpoints in Southern Lebanon were endlessly fascinated by my golf clubs.” Friedman wrote, “They assumed that any long steel shaft with a malletlike head at one end had to be a weapon. The golf clubs also held me at the Israel-Lebanon border station, because the girl soldiers there knew what they were but simply refused to believe that anyone could be arriving from Hobbes’ jungle carrying a set of Wilson Staffs on his shoulder.”

My own sport of choice is hiking. I first walk up a road ascending the ridge, since it’s the only road in sight beside the one on which I came. Finally signs screaming: “Stop!! Border ahead” and “No entery. Closed military Area!!!” convince me and I turn back, which is when I notice a perfect little gravel road, leading directly away from the coast, parallel to the border. I gladly step onto it.

It leads me through natural beauty that renders Acre’s Bahá’i gardens forgettable,

and offers views to the coastal plain that revive in me again that thought from yesterday, the one about Israel as a much longed-for vegetable patch. If any Lebanese were permitted to stand at the very top of the range and look down, she or he would be seeing at the garden of our dreams.

Soon I get a sight of that imaginary Lebanese’s own garden. Having wound up at a silent road lined with fences, I soon realize that everything to the north of it (left hand side in this photo) is in fact abroad. I also realize that this is a patrol road, and that I am standing directly inside the “closed military area” mentioned before. I also realize that I had better scram.

How, though? The breach that allowed me onto the road is gone behind me, I wouldn’t know how to find it. Elswhere, the side of the road not lined with the actual electric border fence is lined instead with standard barbed wire. Should I chance it and try to climb over? There’s a watchtower down the road. What if they saw me attempt to climb, mistaked me for an infiltrator, and shot to kill?

I postpone the decision until catching sight of this:

It’s a UN marker, marking the “Blue Line” which is the international border in earnest. I’m standing not three meters away from it. Let my jeans tear over the barbed wire. Another pair already split in two in the middle of Area A in the West Bank during the Christmas journey. This couldn’t be worse.

I make it through, with only minor cuts.

It’s natural that we would have some thorns in our dream rose garden, and that they would tear through our skin from time to time. Do we grow more thorns than roses? I used to think we do, but strangely now am not so sure. It’s been a good day. It’s being a good life. The afternoon sun shines gently over the green hills and I’m in love with this border that scared me half to death a few minutes ago. Harsh though this land is at times, ugly and unjust though it so often is, I somehow feel that this is exactly where I need to be. I lift the backpack from the thick brush and travel onward.

______________

Thanks for reading and taking part in the adventure. All writing on this site is done voluntarily, so if any of you would like to pitch in directly for my travel expenses, please click here or on the “donate” button at the top of this page to do so. I’m deeply grateful to those who already donated. Thank you so much! This project would be impossible if not for you.

For more of The Round Trip

Relive the first two journeys:
The September Journey
The Christmas Journey

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    COMMENTS

    1. XYZ

      The confusion over the “Arov” (flies) plague is due to the fact that the sages disagreed what the plague was exactly. One opinion says it indeed was flies, but another says it was a mixture (the root of the world “arov” does imply a mixture) of wild animals, as the picture indicates.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Yuval, from what I know, the Baha´is have no problem with more involvement with Israel. But their religion is very proselytic and they love intermarriage. Thus, they have an agreement with the Israeli authorities that they can exist in this closed community as long as they convert no Jews. I´ve met Baha´is from many different countries and did some research about them. It surprised me that Israelis I know perceived the Baha´is to be a rather closed community, where people only marry other Baha´is. It´s quite the opposite elsewhere (not Iran, of course) – they try to establish as many contacts as possible with other people, engage them in their community activities, and spread their religion.

      Reply to Comment
    3. AYLA

      thank you for taking us to the weirdest, most unknown places (Achzib Land?), and to the most beautiful, with what is distinctly your lens, regardless of the camera; may it help you see anew. Cheers.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Joel

      1948 partition plan? I think you mean 1947.

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    5. palestinian

      “The 1948 partition plan placed the border between Jewish and Arab-controlled territories just south of Acre” …..as if two groups of people descended from moon and fought over a piece land.The writer can never abandon his manipulation,even when he is pretending to be a good peaceful person.

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    6. AYLA

      @Palestinian. Your tone has changed so much in the year, or less, that I’ve been posting here. You used to read with more faith. for example, you used to encourage me to become a more of an activist, rather than writing me off (on another thread). Lately, though, you read everything with so much cynicism. Very little here, or anywhere, is black and white. The writers on 972 are here, rather than some place else, because by and large they share your indignation about the Occupation. That doesn’t mean that the history here is cut and dried into good guys and bad guys. Even if Yuval’s statement was bias (perhaps because of my own biases including those about the writer, I don’t read anything into it rather than a statement of fact about where they put the borders, and between whom)–do you really believe that he’s pretending to be a good, peaceful person? Are *you* a good, peaceful person? I’m sure you are, but to me, acting as a good, peaceful person does not mean attacking people’s good peaceful personhood, or consistently insulting people who truly care and are doing something about it, each in their own way.
      *
      You also talk a lot about Jewish misinformation and manipulation, and few here would argue with you about the existence of those problems (in fact, Yuval brings it to our attention, and also offers the antidote: true stories), but those problems exist, too, in the Arab world, and among Palestinians, and in fact you yourself were recently eluding to the Elders of Zion, which is not only one of the most clear-cut pieces of propaganda on earth, but also one that is used quite dangerously. I’m not proclaiming innocence; there is a lot of which I am ignorant, and I read here in part to learn, which is why I’m grateful to readers like yourself since my chosen method of learning is from people. I am suggesting that among good, peaceful people, we try to give more benefit of the doubt, and when someone gets something wrong, help them out, or show them how it sounds from where you’re sitting. Pointing fingers keeps us locked in this conflict. If you only want to be angry and see the worst in everyone, okay, but then that’s the role you’re choosing, and it has its effects. Everything we do and say makes a difference, and this is a time when the scales are about to tip. How is not up to our governments, not now. it’s up to us. More than we know.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Dhalgren

      A fascinating journey and a potent antidote to the depression of politics as usual. It is always good to remember that the nature of a country is never best expressed by its politicians but rather best uncovered first-hand by looking out upon its various terrains and conversing unassumingly with its diverse peoples. Thanks for providing that refreshing perspective.

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    8. palestinian

      You are right Ayla , I ‘ve changed my position on people like you and Yuval,I no longer believe in you.You consider Yuval a good person I dont !I’ve never insulted him ,its just I couldnt find a better word to describe what he is doing/writing.Again and again,you are trying to present the conflict as if its about “our” governments/or its better to say your government(colonial power) but we both know its not!Let me say it for the 100th time ,we arent equal in this conflict ,one side is the owner of the house the other is the burglar.Israel has no right to exist in Palestine ,neither you nor Yuval have the right to live here more than any foreigner ,the real issue is your beliefs and fairytales.You condemn what Zionsts have been to us while defending your existence in my land.It my be cool to be the peaceful new American-Israeli immigrant who is preaching peace and love but I’m not interested to be part of your play.I’m totally against whats happening in the West Bank ,I’m against normalization,I dont want Hebrew to be an official language in my country,I dont want Palestinian children to learn that Jews have the right to live here only because they are Jewish.I dont want to learn about your “narrative” although I already did .Yafa (not Yafo)is occupied just like Nablus and Ramallah,your definition of occupation differs from mine…

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    9. palestinian

      have been doing *

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    10. A

      So what are you doing here Palestinian? Why waste your time?

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    11. AYLA

      @Palestinian–thank you for clarifying your position. I wonder what changed for you? I’m surprised you don’t think there’s a big difference between myself and Yuval on this land, seeing as he was born here and as far as I know has only one passport, and I’m an american immigrant who could perhaps learn a thing or two from the people at the Bahai. For the record, I, too, am not into the whole peace and love scene if it doesn’t involve serious content. That said, you are right in feeling that we don’t have much common ground if your ideal vision for this land is one with no tolerance for Jewish interests. I would say, only, then: the common ground we do share, which is wanting to end the inhumane and unjust occupation, is in both of our hands. I’m not suggesting symmetry of other kinds, never was. If you’re asking people like Yuval to fight to end the occupation so that you can expel him from this land, then to me, you’re part of the problem.
      *
      What I love about this series is what many love about it: Yuval is taking us beyond our ideas of this place and her people (Jewish, Palestinian, et al). I’m looking forward to traveling further into the heart of the land with him, into the hearts of the people, and the trees. I love Yuval’s propensity toward the past, because if we go back far enough, with open hearts, I believe we’ll find the keys to go forward. I, for one, would like to see you return, Palestinian, and eventually, to have coffee with Yuval without anyone jumping the barbed wire. Maybe the plan that would allow that would only allow me to join you as a tourist. maybe not. the answer to that question is not important to me; ending the occupation is much more important. maybe we’ll run out of fossil fuel before we get over ourselves and no one will be able to get anywhere anyway.
      *
      Take care.

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    12. Zvi

      Thanks for the walk down memory lane. I am from Haifa (lived not far from the Baha’i administrative center in Hadar Aliyon) and I briefly lived on a border kibbutz in the Galil Ma’aravi during my military service in the late 1980’s so I know that area very well too. [@Palestinian – you can deny Israel’s right to exist all you want, but that is not going to change reality].

      I even stayed at Achzib Land once and got the shit scared out of me. Literally! We had been drinking on the beach and went to the archeological site next door to use the “facilities” but something intervened and sent us running back. That was the one and only time in my life that I truly felt that a place was haunted by spirits. And I shared the feeling with someone (the two of us experienced the same thing at the same time, but from different bathrooms), so it was most definitely not only in my head.

      I just wanted to point out that I am not 100% certain that your photo of the “Lebanese fields” is in fact in Lebanon! The border is quite windy in this area, and that definitely looks like Israeli agriculture fields. Hopefully things have gotten better on the Lebanese side in recent years, but views can often be deceptive in this area.

      Reply to Comment
    13. AYLA

      we are stardust. we are golden. and we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden. (@Palestinian: I speak metaphorically, and if literally, then of a non-politically-bordered garden. So does Joni Mitchell).

      Reply to Comment
    14. Adi

      Yuval, loving the series. Going to try to find your travel books.
      .

      Palestinian, Whether you like our narrative or not is up to you, but you are just going to have to accept that Jews are attached to Israel and you are not going to change that. Alternatively, you can die a very bitter man.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Henry Weinstein

      To Ayla and others
      It’s not because someone posts things on +972 under the pen name “Palestinian” that he or she is Palestinian. Actually I think our “Palestinian” is an undercover troll, playing the Palestinian-Likud part.
      Frankly Ayla, do you imagine a Palestinian posting under the pen name “Palestinian”??!!
      Only a sick Zionist could do this, according to me, Henry Weinstein born in Burgundy 1959 living in Paris France (see my Facebook page, ‘Palestinian’: enjoy)!!

      Reply to Comment
    16. AYLA

      @Henry–although I’ve been duped on comment threads before (someone on Tablet was using the name of a deceased person, and I got to speak to the dead)–I’m usually a pretty good judge of fictional vs. nonfictional characters, and Palestinian is a real, diaspora Palestinian who has been commenting here for a long time. However, you make an excellent point: why not use our true identities, here? Yuval does. This is the beginning of taking responsibility for ourselves, in this conflict, on this earth. –Ayla Peggy Adler

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    17. AYLA

      And to bring it back to Yuval’s beautiful log: when we stand here before each other as humans, with names, we are not only our nationality, our religion, our various associations with a conflict, but each such complex, beautiful humans, with such rich stories, including those of exile, that shape us.

      Reply to Comment
    18. palestinian

      Ayla , sabras were born in occupied Palestine so they inherited the loot which they will have to return sooner or later (willingly or unwillingly).”no tolerance for Jewish interests” pls Ayla lets drop the American style of liberty ,democracy and tears.Its like the landlord has zero tolerance for the burglar’s interests,really !We have seen the Jewish Zionist tolerance for decades.So yes I am part of your problem.Your second “sentimental” paragraph should be hanged on the walls of the museum of tolerance (lol @ tolerance)which was built over the cemetery of Ma’man Allah in Al-Quds(not as Israelis call it Mamilla).It seems when Zionists have nothing further to say they invite others for a cup of coffee,I always wonder why not tea!Anyway I dont drink coffee.There is an article “Were the three Jewish US citizens spying? ” I couldnt write it better,even in Arabic.

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    19. Tammy/Tamar

      Charming, fascinating, totally gutsy. I’m starting to think that, in your journeying, what has spared you consequences far more dire than split pants or scratched skin is your stubborn wonder, amazement, exploring, irony as you doggedly pursue the multiple narratives of a place and time, and reflect on your own. Marvelous.

      Reply to Comment
    20. AYLA

      Palestinian–I was just over at Kornmehl farm, owned by an eighth generation jerusalem family (jewish). If you deem the UN’s 1947 partition plan a plan for an occupation, that’s not historically accurate by objective standards. How it played out is highly arguable, and as I’ve said before, I believe everyone: it’s all true, and the more stories we know, the more true. To me, settling the truth isn’t necessary when confronting the occupation since ’67; it is immoral, not because of the borders on the land (which is illegal and wrong), but because of the treatment of the people. Meanwhile, most of my arab friends here prefer coffee. Unless they’re Bedouin, and that tea is too sugary for me, but I drink it anyway. The tea certainly knows no borders, and grows wild all over this land.

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    21. Ruth

      Reading about Achziv brought back some fond memories. Once upon a time, when I was a student in Israel, I hang out at Achziv. Every week end, a bunch of us stayed in that big house you see in the picture,dropping acid,smoking Lebanese hash and doing other fun stuff:) We used to walk around half naked and Israelis used to come to gawk at us, the hippies.We were hardly hippies-just dope heads. The owner then-could not be Eli Avivi,looked ancient already-was a bit of a shady character who enjoyed a bit too much the company of teen girls. I found him creepy, he was so old!!! To me then, his ideas of a free state had more to with hedonism than politics. Weird place for weird times.
      @AYla. Why do you bother with Palestinian? He is totally deaf to your entreaties. I am sorry to say but you are extremely naive. You are trying to project your cultural assumptions about peace and love to Palestinian who is a hater, an absolutist and a rejectionist.

      Reply to Comment
    22. Ruth

      @Henri

      “Only a sick Zionist could do this, according to me”

      What a sick thing to say. Like Palestinians are all angels.

      Reply to Comment
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