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What shall be the legacy of Ron Huldai: An ongoing debate in Tel-Aviv

Tel Aviv Office SkyscrapersIt’s been 10 years since Mr. Ron Huldai was elected mayor of Tel Aviv – Israel’s second largest city, and the center of its economic and cultural life. It is a political position with a great public impact: It is a well known joke that there’s a stage in the life of every young secular Israeli, in which he (or she) finds himself moving to Tel Aviv, looking to absorb the urban lifestyle and to experience the “fast lane” of this Mediterranean metropolis; not to mention the scores of immigrants and the large Arab population of Jaffa — all of these under the administrative control of Mr. Huldai.

Later this year the people of Tel-Aviv will go to the polls to pick a new mayor. After two terms Mr. Huldai has spent in city hall, there are many who feel it is time for a change. Yet others adore the changes he brought to this dynamic city, sometimes pushing his projects through like a stubborn bulldozer despite the residents’ objections.

Ron Huldai was born in 1944, and spent twenty-six years in military service. He served as a fighter pilot, and later as the base commander of Nevatim Airbase in the Negev desert. He was chosen mayor in 1998 and very soon began a massive operation of infrastructure renovation across the city, as well as approving many new projects, that eventually completely changed the city skyline.

New Wharf of Tel AvivAmong the many projects undertaken during his time in the mayor’s office, few are especially worth mentioning: The redecorating of many downtown venues, such as Rotchild Boulevard and Jerusalem Boulevard; the area of the old northern wharf had been turned into a stylish compound of designer warehouses, night clubs, and posh restaurants — preventing access to the sandy beach in this section of the shore line. A nearby park, the Yarkon River walkway, gradually regained a European look, with wooden decks and bicycle pavements.

Critics accused Mr. Huldai of not being sentimental, of turning Tel-Aviv into a pretty place with no soul. He himself was caught comparing the city to the military bases he had used to command, inspiring protesters who called out “We’re residents, not soldiers”. Another major complain directed toward him is the endless construction of newer and taller skyscrapers, all aimed at luring high-paying flat buyers.

Perhaps the greatest controversy involves the demolition of “Ussishkin” Basketball Hall — the aging home of the red team: “Hapoel Tel-Aviv”. It was a move accompanied by a loud public outcry; still, Mr. Huldai went ahead and approved the destruction of the building in 2006. Basketball fans were outraged, and the story culminated in the desecration of Huldai’s parents’ graves.

Personally I think that functionality, comfort and nostalgia don’t necessarily contradict each other. I find myself enjoying the new feel and look of the city much more than I used in the past. In any case, I am certain this debate is sure to continue and even to heat up as we’re approaching the municipal elections.

Source: Wikipedia

Is israel ready for an earthquake disaster?

Today we’re informed that another major earthquake struck the surface of the earth. This time it’s the people of China who suffer the wrath of the planet. So far we’ve heard of 3500(!!) casualties, and the numbers are expected to rise.

Tel Aviv Urban LandscapeIsrael itself sits on top of the Great Rift Valley, also known as the Syrian-African Rupture. It is a distinct geographical trough that marks the junction of several geological faults. Over the years, many experts warn the Israeli public that they should be prepared for a mega earthquake hitting this tiny country, sooner or later. Now, it is true that several devastating earthquakes ran wild across the planet in the past few years, and that the countries afflicted (Turkey, Iran, Indonesia, to name a few) suffered heavy losses and great economical setbacks, and yet, they managed to recover, able to keep their heads above the tide. This wouldn’t be the case of Israel if such a disaster strikes unexpectedly.

Israel is a small state, only slightly larger than New Jersey, and most of Israel’s population is concentrated on the banks of the Mediterranean shore, in cities such as Tel-Aviv and Haifa. No wonder the Israeli government is so concerned about the Iranian threat — One nuclear bomb is enough to wipe out the state of Israel, and most of its population. Well, Prime Minister Olmert is definitely anxious with the Iranian A-Bomb, but what about the threat of natural disasters, such as earthquakes and droughts?

Numerous panel reports have been presented to the Israeli cabinet in the past decade urging the state authorities to take measures in preparation of a potential natural disaster. It was when the accumulating data persuaded news editors to feature this story prominently on TV and across the written media, that things “started to roll”. As we’ve been accustomed to in Israel, governmental agenda follows editorial agenda. Recently, we do hear about new protocols which the emergency services have prepared for such disasters, and even the government itself set up several web sites in order to educate the Israeli public as to what to do in such situations (so far, in Hebrew alone).

There is definitely much more to do, and I hope to see these official efforts taking one notch up. In the meantime, our prayers are aimed at the people of China.

From celebrations to allegations

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert denies allegations for allegedly accepting bribes worth millions of dollars from US businessman, Moshe (Morris) Talansky. On Thursday, at the end of Israel’s 60th Independence Day, Olmert addressed the Israeli public during his post gag order press conference:

“I was elected by you, citizens of Israel, to be the prime minister and I don’t intend to shirk this responsibility. At the same time, and even though the law does not require me to do this, I will resign from my job if the attorney general decides to issue an indictment against me” , said Olmert.

Prime Minister OlmertOlmert says he will resign if indicted. Dramatic as it may sound, it would be impossible for any prime minister to stay in office if investigation continues.

“I was not born to be prime minister, and I’m not going to stay here until the end of my life. I’m too young for that. Right now, I think it will be a mistake (to leave), and I have a job to accomplish, a vision to realize. This is the great vision of peace which I think is possible this time more than ever”, he said to the American press during the weekend.

Moshe (Morris) Talansky, a key witness in the investigation, is now in Israel.

We will have to wait and see what happens next.

One thing you can say for sure while celebrating 60 years of statehood –there has never been a dull moment!

Sources: Ynet , Haaretz ; Picture by PM Office

Reflections on Israeli POW’s

Israeli POWs
Last Friday, May 2nd, a very interesting article appeared in the Weekend supplement of the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s oldest English language newspaper. The article, entitled Stigma of Surrender, and written by correspondent Larry Derfner, dealt with Israelis who had been taken prisoner in various wars, especially the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and the first Lebanese War of 1982. Former Israeli POW’s who had been taken prisoner and later released, recounted their experiences in the hands of the enemy, and what happened to them after being finally released. Many of them said that the treatment they received by IDF authorities who “interrogated” them afterwards was (from a psychological basis) almost as bad as when they were prisoners of war, or of terrorists.

With Israeli solders such as Gilad Schalit, Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser still not back home after nearly two years, this year’s Solder’s Remembrance Day and Independence Day celebrations will take on a special meaning for members of their families, as well as for many other Israelis.

Israel will be celebrating its 60th anniversary as an independent state this week; and the matter of captured and missing soldiers is an issue even more important, especially in light of recent offers to affect a prisoner exchange with the Hamas organization for captured soldier Gilad Schalit.

Many people in Israel feel that trading this young soldier’s life (assuming he’s still alive) for several hundred Hamas and other terrorists who will only go back to killing Jews, is not going by the old Rabbinical context of “he who saves one life has saved the entire world”. This time it’s entirely different.

I wouldn’t want to be in the shoes of either Mr. and Mrs. Schalit or the Prime Minister in regards to what to do in this situation. Israeli prisoners have mainly been repatriated in wartime – and that most were from the Egyptians who were only slightly more humane than their Syrian allies.

Regarding soldiers being captured or taken prisoner by terrorist groups, it’s nearly always been a death sentence – except for some like Elkanah Tannenbaum, an Israeli reserve officer who was captured while in Lebanon on a “business trip” and who may have had “connections” which enabled him to stay alive.

Some people feel that Israeli solders should be issued a cyanide pill, like Mossad people are, and if they have the opportunity, to simply swallow it. At least it prevents the suffering, including by such as Ron Arad, who may actually have died long ago (it was supposedly verified by Russian and other foreign diplomats who had received inside information).

That’s the sad reality of being captured as an Israeli soldier. So much for the “Pinchas Shevi” (POW ID Card) issued every IDF recruit. Many say that it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on!

Or is it?

I’m quite sure that if one talks to parents and relatives of the three young men mentioned here, they will definitely agree that Israeli soldiers should not only come back alive but should be given the honor that they truly deserve. In fact, I’m sure these relatives feel that Israeli leaders are not doing enough to ensure their loved ones’ release.

As Israelis celebrate 60 years of independence, they should also take time to reflect on these brave young men who so much deserve to come home – with honor – to their loving and waiting families.

Israel 60 in pictures

Israel 60 Independence DayI was at Jerusalem Beach today and the Air Show was amazing. 60 Paratroopers started the day, then a Naval parade and finally an air show. There are so many pictures to show that you’ll need to click to see more pictures…

Riding through the streets of Tel Aviv, the Yarkon Park was a great experience. Independence Day in Israel has become a BBQ day. The “Mangalistim” (Mangal=BBQ) were out in full force and if it wasn’t tied down – it was roasting on an open flame.

There is a special feel for the 60th, there is a nostalgic, dare I say it, patriotic feel. We are proud that our little Israel is 60 and there is a certain pride in the air. People were having a good time, smiling to one another and generally more polite to one another. It was nice to see…

Happy 60th Israel !!!!

22,437

Memorial Day in Israel 2008Israel’s largest family numbering 22,437 members, the family of grief and loss, is remembered today. This day of remembrance is dedicated to all those who lost their life fighting for Israel, trying to get to Israel, killed in terror attacks and hate crimes anywhere in the world.

It’s a very difficult day where you take a closer look at the lives of the families who are left behind, the young soldiers who never had a chance to grow up. A day to remember young fathers who never got to meet their children, young women who were killed by terror attacks and other heart wrenching stories.

We sit at home and watch these TV articles and personal essays about people from all walks of life and backgrounds and how they lost their life for Israel. Israel that with all the issued it has (and their are many) is our only home. When Israel declared independence 60 years ago it had 873,000 people. There are more then 8 times that amount today. There are 7,282,000 people in Israel today – 75.5% are Jewish and 69% of Israelis were born in Israel.

When this day ends today at 8:00 PM the celebrations for Israel’s 60th celebrations will begin. It’s always an extreme yet somehow perfectly logical shift from extreme sorrow and grief to happiness and celebration..
I guess after we remember the people who made the ultimate sacrifice we need to enjoy the gift they left us…Israel.

Image: Reuters

Olmert Under Investigation – Again

****UPDATE****
This is from the NYPost

A Long Island mogul is at the center of a sensational bribery scandal that could bring down embattled Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, The Post has learned.

Millionaire financier Morris Talansky – who runs an investment firm out of his tony home in Woodmere – allegedly passed money to Olmert while the politician was mayor of Jerusalem in the ’90s, sources said.

In a highly unusual move, Israeli authorities have barred the country’s media from publishing Talansky’s name – revealed now in The Post – saying it could hamper their investigation. Israeli media has referred only to the involvement of an “American businessman.”

Talansky is apparently set to sing to Israeli authorities about his alleged role in the scheme, sources said.
“It looks serious, and it looks like they have a state witness” in Talansky, one source said.

Talansky – a philanthropist and political contributor to everyone from Rudy Giuliani to Bill Clinton – is in Jerusalem, where he has an apartment, preparing to head to a closed-door court hearing as early as today, sources said.

The 75-year-old was earlier questioned about the alleged scheme almost immediately after arriving in the country for Passover, and he implicated Olmert, sources have said.

It was unclear what the alleged payments to Olmert were for, but sources said they involved hefty amounts of cash.

Talansky repeatedly appears – sometimes under the nickname “The Laundry Man” – in the logs of financial dealings kept by Olmert’s longtime aide, Shula Zakan, a source said.

Olmert was grilled by investigators Friday. He has vehemently denied any wrongdoing.

The allegations are only the latest in a string of woes for Olmert, who has battled past charges of government corruption and questionable personal business practices.

“But this time seems very serious, and it seems eventually, we don’t know if it will be days, weeks or months, in the end, he may not be able to continue to be prime minister,” one source said.

A man answering the phone at Talansky’s multimillion-dollar mansion in Woodmere yesterday said, “He’s not available.”

Talansky lists himself as CEO of the Global Resources Group, a self-described financial-investment firm.

Ehud Olmert 2008Ehud Olmert , the Israeli Prime Minister, is again suspected of corruption. On Friday, police investigators including the Head of the National Fraud Unit came knocking on Ehud Olmert’s door at his official residence in Jerusalem. Olmert was questioned on suspicion of receiving bribes from an American businessman a few years ago.

The prime minister answered all of the investigators’ questions on the subject, and will continue to cooperate with all legal authorities to the extent he is required to do so,” said the official statement from Olmert’s office.

Another official statement from the Prime Minister’s office said he “is convinced that with the discovery of the truth in the police investigation, the suspicions against him will dissipate.”

The Israeli Prime Minister might be facing serious allegations. Can Olmert politically survive this last high profile interrogation that connects him to severe corruption affair? In the last few years, Olmert has demonstrated fantastic survival skills in the political arena.

A senior source has told the media in response: “Olmert is in a grave situation, it is doubtful whether he will be able to continue to hold his position.” In the meantime, Ehud Olmert denies all allegations.

Israeli ministers certainly make police forces work hard these days. Israeli former finance minister , Avraham Hirchson, also faces criminal investigation , suspected of being involved in the embezzlement of 10 million dollars, partly from a charity fund.

The list does not end here unfortunately.
I guess many MKs will not be celebrating Israel’s Independence Day next week.

World’s Largest Israeli Flag

Larget Israel Flag in the WorldWhen you’re driving to and from Jerusalem, in a field in the Latrun area there is a huge flag recently laid out for the upcoming 60 Independence Day Celebrations :)

The flag was layed out by 40 volunteers and members of the Parks and Nature Department. its 100 meters by 200 meters and weighs 5.2 ton.

Check out the white bus in the corner to get an idea as to the size of the flag…
Pretty damn big !!!

Shmuel Making Waves

Indian WavesNew theories concerning electricity being generated from the power of ocean tides and waves may be closer to being reality than previously thought. Harnessing the power of ocean waves has been thought about for years, but so far no practical type of device has been made that is strong enough to withstand the battering received by the power of even normal ocean surf.

A number of countries are interested in turning the power of marine waves and currents into clean, pollution free electric power. Some of these countries include Australia (which has some of the most powerful waves in the world), Argentina, Chile, Indonesia, Spain, South Africa, and Cyprus. One of the most promising ideas for undertaking this feat comes from an Israeli inventor named Shmuel Ovadia. Ovadia has been involved in this project for nearly 20 years, and has already patented several devices for turning waves into electricity. His idea involves a series of large buoys that ride on top of the waves and are attached of large hydraulic “arms” that contract, or turn backwards, powering an alternator that makes electricity in a similar manner as a belt powered alternator does in a car. According to Ovadia, the process is completely free of pollution as no fuel is needed to create power as is the case in present electric power plants, whether they by powered by oil, coal, natural gas, or atomic power.

Shmuel OvadiaThe power of tides in the world’s seas and oceans can be enough to provide between 10-20% of needed megawatts of electricity which will not only save on fuel costs, but be very beneficial to the world’s environment. Areas of particular interest are locations in Africa and Asia where this kind of power would be very beneficial to developing economies that have constant problems with electric power shortages. This is where people like Ovadia and his company, SDE, come in; and he hopes that his company’s “wave power” devices will one day be providing electricity to countries which have plenty of wave power and little natural energy resources. SDE currently has developed devices large enough to provide as much as 100 megawatts of power depending on the time of year and size of the waves. As ocean waves are usually stronger in both summer and winter, the devices, called “modulators” would supply electricity at times when it is really needed to provide heating during winter months and air conditioning during hot summer months.

Ovadia wishes that his own country, Israel, would be more interested in this kind of system. But so far, electricity generated in Israel is still made from conventional power plants fueled by imported coal and oil.

There are some drawbacks in this type of system, as large ones take up consider area and appear to cause some damage to beaches, due to adverse currents generated by the hydraulic arms. But the question is, as Ovadia puts it, whether this is a worse problem than pollution caused by conventional power plants.

Whether or not the idea is accepted in Israel is not currently important though, as there are plenty of other countries more than willing to listen to people like Shmuel Ovadia; who may one day be recognized as one of the foremost pioneers of alternative energy solutions.

Claims Conference Disgraceful Exploitation of the Holocaust

Claims Conference DocumentaryToday we mark the Holocaust Memorial Day. Last year, the entire country was shaken after watching the documentary film The Morals of Restitution (Musar Hashilumin) . The film, created by the socially-conscious journalists Orly Vilnai Federbush and Guy Meroz, revealed the shameful economic conditions of so many of the holocaust survivors who live in Israel. More than 80,000 Shoah survivors live in atrocious poverty without some of the most basic means such as food and medicine. One survivor told the cameras shockingly that she had to go back to Germany, a place of her persecution, due to Israel’s lack of financial support. The film raised a pointing finger at the Jewish institutions including the Israeli banks, JNF (Jewish National Fund) and the Claims Conference, an organization established for the primary purpose of transferring restitution funds from Germany, for withholding payments of survivors who are literally dying in the meantime.

How could this happen in Israel, a state built by and for Jews? This is the question the audience of this documentary is left with. There was a point where things seemed as they were about to change. People protested and the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made a speech emphasizing the importance of the Holocaust survivors for this country while promising to distribute special funds. It all turned out to be a mere media spectacle – survivors were given a one-time allowance of a few dozen NIS and were left forgotten again.

A year has passed since. In a sequel broadcast last night the journalists returned to further investigate how and whether things have changed. They didn’t. Many of the survivors passed away while others continue in their daily suffering. The sequel shows how the Claims Conference organization has turned into a corrupt money making machine accumulating fortunes for its own benefits and agenda.

In light of this, one must wonder how these people live with themselves. More importantly, how does our society allows this to happen? It is about time that we not only remember but wake up from our apathy and take action to protect these people from death in disgrace. The only positive thing emerging from this issue is the courage of the creators to speak out which highlights the true purpose of journalism.

Shirly Brener Hits Big Time

Shirly BrenerAnother Israeli actress has landed the lead role in a Hollywood production. According to recent reports, Israeli actress Shirley Brener has nabbed the leading role in a new action film called “Streets of Blood”. She will be starring alongside Sharon Stone, Val Kilmer, and rapper 50 cents.

Brener will portray a drug addict who gets in trouble with the police. “I am excited about the filming, I feel like I am taking an additional step and this time opposite a Hollywood diva like Sharon Stone”, said Brener to the press.

More Israeli actresses are joining Natalie Portman in conquering the big screen. Last month inside sources hinted that Ayelet Zurer would star next to Tom Hanks in Ron Howard’s upcoming film “Angels and Demons”, based on Dan Brown’s bestselling novel. In 2001, Zurer made an unforgettable appearance in Steven Spielberg’s “Munich”, which launched her international career.

I have no doubt that our representatives are extremely talented, but in this business it also demands a lot of luck! Considering this international success, I hope these women are wearing a Hamsa against the envious eye!

Also can be added to this impressive list, singer and songwriter Yael Naim whose hit song “New Soul” has been rocking American charts in the past few months.

Way to go!

102 Magic Number for Albert Hofmann

Alebert Hoffman Dead at 102

When we heard this on the news today, people just couldn’t help smiling. A notable strange reaction to the news of someone’s death. But the truth is that when you hear that the man who invented LSD dies at the ripe old age of 102 (God Bless Him!) you have to wonder what the people behind the War on Drugs have to think…

Rest In Peace Dr. Hofmann :)

Picture: Alex Grey

Gaza Chaos Continues

Children Killed in Gaza AttackMedia reported that on Monday, IAF attacked two terrorists who were located in Gaza strip; a mother and her four children residing near the terrorists were killed as well. Many Palestinians have criticized Israel’s aggression, but now it is unclear who holds responsible for this killing.

The Palestinians claim that the IDF killed the family, but the IDF claims that they the tragedy was actually caused by the explosives the terrorists used. IDF has responded to the ongoing rocket fire on Southern towns Sderot, and now on Ashkelon.

Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister, blames Hamas for this awful incident:

“We see Hamas as responsible for everything that happens in the area around Gaza, all of the strikes, and the IDF is acting and will continue to act against Hamas, within the Gaza Strip… Hamas is also responsible, through its operations within the civilian population, like the laying of explosives, for wounding some civilians who are not involved in the operations,”

It remains clear however, that this death leads to the next Qassam that leads to the next IDF attack. I wonder, will this vicious circle ever end?

**UPDATE
In the government meeting this morning Olmert opened with an expression of regret (as in sorrow) for the loss of the Gazan family. He also expressed sorrow for the residents of Sderot and the boy who’s leg was amputated recently in the southern town.

The Army’s investigation of the attack in Gaza revealed so far that an attack by an Israeli jet hit explosives. The secondary explosions caused a house to collapse killing the mother and her four children. The IDF is warning of Hamsa use of the civilian population as human shields in their fight.

Shark Attack

Shark Attack San DiegoDon’t say we don’t get around. We for this from our man in San Diego, direct from Solana Beach. As a country that’s really all about the sea, Israel has had little experience with Sharks. There were a couple of Shark attacks in Eilat way back, but nothing major.

Once in a while we hear about some sharks being observed by fishermen but generally the only reason they would be found in the Red Sea would be because they were disoriented, lost or just old and looking for a final resting place.

Hope this is the last they hear about it in California…

Thank you Moshe!

On The Road This Pesach 2008

AkkoThe week long Passover holiday is an excellent opportunity to do some off the track touring in many parts of Israel. The Carmel mountain region is an area where many unusual places can be visited in the time space of only a few hours.

Taking advantage of excellent spring weather, my wife and I, along with another couple, began our tour by driving though the pastoral region on the eastern side of the Carmel range, which contains a number of forests, including a large one called Yaarot Menashe. Continuing north, we drove to a region containing several Druze villages and arrived at the quaint village of Julis, located east of Akko (Acre).

Julis is known as the long time place of residence of the Israeli Druze community’s spiritual leader, Sheikh Amin Tarif, whose tomb is located there. Shiek Tarif, who lived to the ripe old age of 95, was well known among Israeli political leaders, many of whom attended his funeral in 1993.

Asking where the tomb was located, a young Druze man took us there, even though it was out of his way. Arriving at the tomb, which one must normally coordinate permission to visit in advance, we were amazed that one can just walk in to the shrine, which is composed of two rooms, one containing the Sheik’s grave, and the other a shrine containing scores of photos of the Sheik with various Israeli notables, including several prime ministers. There were also a number of awards given to the Sheik by the Israeli Defense Forces, where Druze soldiers have served with honor since the creation of the state. The contribution that this minority population of 120,000 has made to Israel is evident; especially considering how the Druze community has been treated of successive Israeli governments over the years.

We also visited a very special private garden, known as Gan Yunis which turned out to be a real pleasure to see. The garden is owned and managed by one family who allow visitors to wander through it if arranged in advance. The garden contains several pools of water with small waterfalls flowing into them. There is also an abundance of native trees, plants and flowers as well as several varieties of birds in large aviaries. Part of the garden (more like a park) contains a small section of railroad track which is said to part of the original Turkish rail line that ran from Damascus and Lebanon through Palestine to Egypt. The owner of the garden is planning to open a restaurant there; and already many Druze weddings are held in this beautiful retreat.

After our visit to Julis, we drove to Akko to visit the old city, which was alive with visitors, from a number of countries, as well as locals who were shopping in the city’s “Kasbah” market. Akko is one of Israel’s oldest cities, whose origins go back more than 4,000 years. Our first site visited was a large Ottoman “Khan” hostel which originally hosted pilgrims and other travelers who arrived at Akko en rout to other locations in the Holy Land. In the center of the Kahn’s large court yard is the 400 year old Ahmad Basha El Jazzar Mosque which is open for prayer to local and visiting Muslims.

We next toured several of Old City’s many winding streets and arrived at one of the city’s largest churches the St. George Greek Orthodox Church, which was closed, even though it was Orthodox Palm Sunday. Not far from St. George’s Church is the only synagogue in Akko’s Old City, the Ramhal Synagogue. It was also closed when we arrived, but prayer hours are noted on a placard at it’s entrance. When we asked a middle-aged Arab women, who watches over the place, who actually prays there, she said in Hebrew “anashim me hutz le-Aretz (people from abroad)”.

The city’s Kasbah market is reminiscent of the Suk in Jerusalem’s Old City, although a bit smaller. Many local Arabs still shop there though, preferring its dark and crowded passageways to modern shopping malls located in the newer, Jewish section of Akko. Many Arabs still live in the Old City, and their presence there adds an oriental flavor to the city.

The city’s Crusader past is still evident, and two of the most popular Crusader sites there are the subterranean Knights of Hospitallers halls have been partially restored. Following the defeat of the Crusader forces at Hittin (near Tiberas) by Salah a’Din in July, 1187, Akko became the last major Crusader stronghold in the Holy Land, until finally being evicted 150 years later. In addition the Knight’s Halls, we also saw the subterranean tunnel built by the Templars during the 12th Century. The tunnel begins under what was once the Templar’s fortress, which was destroyed by the Ottomans for stones to be used in the city walls, and runs to the sea. It was believed to have been used as an escape route by the Templars in the event of being overrun by Moslem invaders. The tunnel is open for visitors for the price of 7 Shekels and special pumps prevent sea water from flooding the passageway, which in places is so low that we had to crouch to pass through. The Templar fortress is said to have been the strongest in Akko and was the last to fall to the “Saracens”. The Old City still has much of its original fortress walls, which held off the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte for several months, and ended his dreams of “conquering the world” in the early 1800’s. Visitors can walk on top some of these walls, parts of which are up to 3 meters thick. The Port of Akko still contains a number of fishing boats whose owners try to eke our a living by fishing despite a drastic decline in marine life due to increasing pollution form nearby Haifa and the ecologically dead Kishon River.

We also visited the Kahn al-Omadan which though vacant still retains its impressive columns and gives visitors an idea of the commercial importance of the city during the Ottoman Period. Although we did not visit the large (former) Turkish bathhouse of Haman al Basha, the guard at the entrance explained the bathhouse’s importance as a meeting place for Akko residents who would spend many hours in the spa’s warm waters as well as undergoing relaxing, genuine Turkish massages.

Dining out in the Old City is a bit of a problem during Pesach, unless one is acceptable to being served both matzos and pitas at the same time.

Akko and surrounding areas, including sights of Haifa are definitely worth visiting during week long festivals like Pesach and Sukkot.

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