April 14, 2009

Touring Northern Israel
Na'ale, Israel and the Palestinian Territories

It was a really wonderful idea on the part of our hosts to take the family out today, but the reality of it was that Tatiana and Aidric really needed to just relax and recover from the full week of travel it took to reach me from Peru. Both were rather irritable and grumpy all afternoon, and didn't seem to want to spend the time confined to a car after so much time spent inside the fuselages of airliners.

I really don't blame them, but at the same time certainly wanted to take our hosts up on the opportunity to explore parts of the country that we might not otherwise get a chance to do. In the end, promised Tatiana no more activities outside the gated community until we depart in a few days (to head back to Tel Aviv).

The Rosh HaNikra Grottoes

After a very lengthy two and a half hour drive up from our location in the West Bank, we arrived at our first stop: Rosh HaNikra. This is as far north along the Mediterranean coast as you can get within Israel.

Rosh HaNikra ("head of the grottos") is a geologic formation in Israel, located on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, in the Western Galilee near the border with Lebanon. It is a white chalk cliff face which opens up into spectacular grottos.

The Rosh HaNikra grottos are cavernous tunnels formed by sea action on the soft chalk rock. The total length is some 200 meters. They branch off in various directions with some interconnecting segments. In the past, the only access to them was from the sea and experienced divers were the only ones capable of visiting. Today a cable car takes visitors down to see the grottos.

Throughout human history, Rosh HaNikra served as a passage point for trade caravans and armies between Lebanon, Syria, Israel, Egypt, and Africa. The British dug a tunnel through the nearby rocks for trains on what was the Cairo-Istanbul railway. A bridge was destroyed by Jewish underground fighters prior to 1948 during the operation Night of the bridges.

Rosh Hanikra was the site where Israeli and Lebanese officials negotiated and concluded an armistice in 1949 which ended the Lebanese-Israeli component of the 1948 War of Israeli Independence.

I think our hosts were expecting us to want to ride on the cable car through the chalk caves, but Aidric was acting up and the tickets were going for a lofty US$10.50/person. Instead, we drove down from the (restricted) border crossing to have a better look at the (freezing) blue Mediterranean waters, with a pair of Israeli gunboats patrolling off shore.

The Rock Hyrax

The Rock Hyrax, Cape Hyrax, or rock rabbit is a species that superficially resembles a guinea pig, with short ears and tail. They are known as dassies in South Africa, and inhabit much of the African continent and Middle East. Hyraxes are widely stated to be the closest living relatives of elephants, but not all scientists support that proposal.

We saw a few of these little furry guys running around the rocks at Rosh HaNikra.

Akko

After playing about on the rocks and sand for a bit, we were off to our next stop: the ancient city of Akko.

Akko, situated on a narrow spit of land that pokes into the sea, is a historic walled port-city with continuous settlement from the Phoenician period. The present city is characteristic of a fortified town dating from the Ottoman 18th and 19th centuries, with typical urban components such as the citadel, mosques, khans and baths. The remains of the Crusader town, dating from 1104 to 1291, lie almost intact, both above and below today's street level, providing an exceptional picture of the layout and structures of the capital of the medieval Crusader kingdom of Jerusalem.

As the capital and port of the Latinate Kingdom of Palestine, it received ships from Amalfi, Genoa, Pisa and Venice. St Francis of Assisi and Marco Polo were among the guests in the knights’ dining halls.

In 1750, Daher El-Omar, the ruler of Akko, utilized the remnants of the Crusader walls as a foundation for his walls. They were reinforced between 1775 and 1799 by Jezzar Pasha and survived Napoleon's siege. The wall was thin: its height was 10 to 13 meters (33 to 43 feet), with a thickness of only one meter (3 ft).

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