Tag Archives: Akko

Expert Travel Recommendations Israel

I was contacted for an article in a UK magazine on travel to Israel. This is what they say about Israel:

Get the insiders’ guide to Israel from those who know it best. There’s nothing like first-hand experience. But if you can’t get it, then the second best thing is to borrow someone else’s. And when it comes to knowing Israel, you won’t find experts with more expertise than ours – take a look at why they love Israel. With its long history, melting pot of cultures, religious heritage and cosmopolitan cities, Israel is an unforgettable destination.

They asked a series of questions and wanted my recommendations.

Favorite place to stay, a city/rural town or village rather than a specific hotel?
The two favourite places to stay while in Israel are Tel Aviv and Jerusalem but I would suggest something different. Since the Negev desert in the south makes up 60% of Israel’s land area, I think you should stay a few nights there and what could be more appropriate than the new hotel in Mitzpe Ramon on the edge of the large Ramon crater, a geological formation unique to this area. To explore, take a jeep tour into the crater and at night, away from the lights of the big cities, gaze  up at the stars and learn to identify the constellations with a guide.

Favorite place to eat, a restaurant and what you would recommend from the menu?
For a special experience I would recommend Uri Buri, a homey seafood restaurant in Acre, near the lighthouse, facing the Mediterranean Sea. What makes Uri Buri stand out are his unique dishes, based on interesting combinations of ingredients, for example, sashimi with carmelized beets and wasabi sorbet. The best way to go is to make a reservation, invite some friends and share the tasting menu (ask the waiter/waitress for local Israeli wine recommendations).

Best view?
To get an overview of the Old City of Jerusalem, within the 16th century Ottoman Turkish walls, you need to get high and the best view is by climbing 177 steps to the top of the bell tower (height about 40 meters) on the Church of the Redeemer with its 360 degree view of the city. While you’re there visit to the excavations under the church and the small museum.
Recommended excursion for visitors to Israel?
A day trip to the Dead Sea and Judean desert where you can combine history and nature. Visit Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered or Masada, KIng Herod’s fortified palaces on the top of a mountain. Take a hike in the Ein Gedi nature reserve, one of two natural springs in the Judean desert and enjoy a dip in freshwater pools under the cascade of a waterfall. Hopefully you will see ibex, a kind of mountain goat, native to the area. End the day at one of the spa/beaches for a float in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea, the lowest place on earth.

Hidden gem?
Not far from Eilat is the Red Canyon, a colorful gem of a hike for the whole family where you slide down chutes and climb down ladders of a narrow canyon with purple, orange and pink sandstone sculpted walls.

Best way to spend a day in Israel?
Drive the Jordan valley, part of the Great African Rift, visit the archaeological site at Bet Shean, have lunch of St Peter’s fish overlooking the Sea of Galillee, visit Capernaum, with a 4th century synagogue and the house where Peter lived and Jesus preached, later a church. From there drive to the Mediterranean coastal town of Jaffa. At dinner time choose a restaurant on the boardwalk overlooking the sea and watch the sunset.

To see all this and more it’s worth using an expert guide, you’ll enjoy yourself more.

Acre Prison Break

“The first encounter with Acre Prison was terrifying. With your hands and feet shackled, you get off the truck next to a deep moat that reminds you of images of medieval castles that you may have seen in the movies. A fortress wall of seemingly infinite height towers before you. A narrow bridge leads to an opening in the wall. This is the bridge to a place that none has ever escaped from…”

Mendel Malatzky, Irgun prisoner, 1947

The fortress was built by the Bedouin sheikh Daher el Omar in the mid 18th century on the ruins of the Crusader citadel and was further fortified by al Jazzar. Under the British mandate, the fortress served as a jail, where Jewish underground fighters were imprisoned and where 8 Irgun members went to their death on the gallows. Acre was the most secure prison in the country.

Despite this, the Irgun looked for a way to enable their escape. The break came when an Arab inmate mentioned that he had heard women’s voices while working in the oil storeroom (in the south wing of the prison). This was reported to Eitan Livni (father of Tzipi Livni), the most senior Irgun prisoner, who deduced that the south wall of the prison bordered on a street or alley of Old Akko. The information was conveyed to the Irgun general headquarters where they concocted a plan to exploit this weakness for a break-in.

  1. Administration Wing
  2. Hospital
  3. Gallows and Memorial Floor
  4. Visitors’ Wall
  5. Prison Yard
  6. Arab Prisoners’ Wing
  7. Jewish Prisoners’ Wing
  8. Service Wing
  9. Workshops
  10. Jabotinsky Wing
  11. Iron gates that were broken through during the break-in
  12. Archaeological excavations
  13. Prison yard
  14. Break-in point

The logistic preparations were complicated: the Irgun had to purchase a truck, a jeep, two military pickup trucks and make them look like British army vehicles, British army uniforms were acquired and the men were given “English” haircuts. They set out in the convoy of vehicles for Akko to get into position, the two military vans entered the market, while the 3 ton military truck waited at the gate.

The jailbreak was planned for May 4th, 1947 when prisoners would be exercising in the yard to occupy the guards and the cells would be open, the same day the United Nations General Assembly convened to discuss the Palestine issue.

A military engineering unit of the Irgun made its way to the hamam, the Turkish bath house, and pretending to be telephone technicians used ladders to climb onto the roof with the explosives and placed them against the window bars. At 4:22pm there was a loud explosion that blew off the windows and made a hole in the southern wall.

Forty-one prisoners ran from their cells and using explosives that had been smuggled into the prison blew off the iron gates closing the corridors to reach the place of the break-in. From there they went out onto the roof of the hamam and into the alleyways of Old Akko.

Some jumped into the van, others ran through the streets of the market to the Land Gate where the truck was waiting.

Of 41 escapees (30 Irgun, 11 Lehi), 27 inmates succeeded in escaping (20 Irgun,7 Lehi), 6 escapees and 3 fighters were killed and 8, some of them injured were caught and returned to jail; also arrested were five of the attackers. The Arab prisoners took advantage of the commotion and 182 of them escaped.

The action was described by foreign journalists as “the greatest jail break in history.” The New York Herald Tribune wrote that the underground had carried out “an ambitious mission, their most challenging so far, in perfect fashion”, while in the House of Commons, Oliver Stanley asked what action His Majesty’s Government was planning to take “in light of the events at Acre prison which had reduced British prestige to a nadir”.

Three out of the five men captured (Avshalom Haviv, Meir Nakar and Yaakov Weiss) were sentenced to death and died on the gallows in the Acre prison. In retaliation, the Irgun kidnapped two British sergeants, Clifford Martin and Mervyn Paice. When the British did not relent and executed the Irgun men, the Irgun hanged the two sergeants.

Today the Acre Prison is a museum where you can walk through the different cells, offices and workshops of the prison and through a series of dramatic videos experience what it was like. The tour ends at the room with the gallows.

From the prison you can visit the hamam and and learn about the tradition of the Turkish bath and some history of Akko. There is much to see and I’d be happy to take you exploring Akko.

Sites around Akko

There are many well-known sites in Israel that are popular, that visitors see again and again while missing out on other hidden gems. Many people have seen the Chagall Windows at Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem but far fewer probably know about the stained-glass windows that Israeli artist, Mordecai Ardon designed. Many people have visited Yad Vashem but far fewer have visited Lohamei HaGetaot, a kibbutz near Akko founded by those who fought and survived the Nazis.

Many people are familiar with the Bahá’í gardens in Haifa but far fewer have visited the Bahá’í gardens just north of Akko. The gardens in Haifa comprise a staircase of nineteen terraces extending all the way up the northern slope of Mount Carmel. The golden-domed Shrine of the Báb, the resting place of the Prophet-Herald of the Bahá’í Faith, stands on the central terrace, looking across the bay towards Akko. There the gardens at Bahjí reflect the beauty and serenity of the Haifa gardens.

The gardens form a large circle surrounding the historic mansion where Bahá’u’lláh, the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, lived during the final years of his life after he was released from Acre Prison by the Ottoman Turks and the shrine where he is buried.

Later during the British Mandate period, Jewish resistance fighters were held in the Acre prison and 9 died there on the gallows. Today the prison is a museum and has been recently updated to dramatically retell the story of the Hagana, Irgun and Lehi struggle with the British, definitely worth a visit. There is another less well-known museum to the underground prisoners in Jerusalem in the Russian compound.

The Old City of Akko was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2001. In July 2008, the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa and Akko were listed as UNESCO World Heritage sites, in recognition of their “outstanding universal value” as holy places and places of pilgrimage. Like all great works of art, these extraordinary sites are tangible expressions of the human spirit.

One of the striking formations near the entrance is a trimmed hedge in the form of an aqueduct. Many people are familiar with the aqueduct that Herod built, onto which the Romans tacked a second aqueduct to bring water to Caesarea but there is another less well-known aqueduct. Just north of Akko, by Kibbutz Lohamei HaGetaot is an aqueduct from the Ottoman period built on an earlier one from the Hellenistic period that was built to bring water from the Cabri springs to Akko.

Kibbutz Lohamei HaGetaot was founded in 1949 by a community of Holocaust survivors, members of the Jewish underground in the ghettos of Poland, and veterans of partisan units. Integral to the kibbutz from the beginning was the Ghetto Fighters’ House – Itzhak Katzenelson Holocaust and Jewish Resistance Heritage Museum for documenting and researching the Holcaust. The museum serves as a testimony to the stories of the survivors and an expression of the return of the Jewish people to our land.

Beside it is Yad Layeled (Monument to Children), an educational center commemorating the one and a half million Jewish children murdered in the Holocaust. The building was designed by Ram Carmi of two main architectural elements: a central 3-story cone and a descending ramp that encircles the cone and defines the path through the space. The space is lit by natural light that enters through a circular stained-glass window on the domed ceiling of the cone that becomes dimmer as you descend until you reach the innermost sanctum and eternal flame.

Yad Layeled gives the visitor an intimate view of the children’s world during the Holocaust and opens a door to their dramatic experiences and pain. It is unique in that it is intended to reach out to young people (ages 10 and up). The other permanent exhibitionis dedicated to Dr. Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish doctor, author and educator who devoted his life to children. Many people visit Yad VaShem but fewer people know about Lohamei HaGetaot. That’s a good reason to hire a guide – a guide can take you places and share experiences that you probably won’t discover on your own.