It is the perfect time of year for hiking, pleasantly warm without being hot, and with the trees in full autumn bloom. So it made sense to take advantage of this and to head up north to hike in Nachal Amud (the Amud Stream), one of the classic hikes of northern Israel.
First, came the descent into Nachal Meiron, which flows down from the area of Mt Meiron. On route, we passed the ruins of a British police station, built to protect some of the springs in the area. We continued down the path, passing the remains of an aqueduct and also remnants of terrace farming, which has been restored to an extent to show visitors what the area would have looked like when it was actively farmed.
We continued our descent through a beautiful canopy of autumn leaves, reaching Nachal Amud, and continuing further along the stream before the trail began to loop back on its other bank.
During our ascent, we bumped into a posse of photographers; it transpires that journalist Shimon Shiffer, whose normal focus is politics and diplomacy, was doing a feature on the Israel National Trail which traverses the country from north to south; part of the trail runs along Nachal Amud. We had a nice chat and he assured me that he would pass on my regards to the British Ambassador.
We returned to the beginning of the hike, but our day was just beginning; having driven all the way up north we were determined to make the most of our time! A short drive took us to the ancient synagogue of Bar’am, one of many ruins of synagogues in the north dating to the Byzantine period.
We then drove along the stunning road that runs along the Lebanese border into the Naftali heights, which offers astonishing views into the Hula Valley. After a brief stop at Tel Kedesh, and a visit to the most complete example of a Roman Temple in the country, we continued our descent to our final destination of the day, the Agamon Lake.
We are in the middle of the migration season in Israel, where millions of birds use the country as a corridor between Europe/Asia and Africa in their search for food as the northern hemisphere cools for the winter. The Agamon offers the opportunity to see many of these birds, and at the moment there are tens of thousands of cranes in the area. Although it is possible to explore independently, we booked onto a guided tour which takes you into areas which it is impossible to access on your own. The noise of the cranes was deafening, and it was amazing to see so many of them and to be so close. We also saw many animals and birds during the trip, including nutrias (large rodents with vicious teeth), gulls, coots, ducks, pelicans and remarkably a wild boar. It was a fantastic trip and highly recommended, particularly at this time of year.
After enjoying the sunset over the valley, it was time for us to return home, after a varied and most entertaining day out.
Read about our first day of the Eilat Campus (exploring the Northern Arava and the Ovda Valley) or our second day (exploring the area of Eilat and the Eilat Mountains) or our fourth day (visiting the Timna Valley).
Again, a bright and early start, facilitated by the sumptuous breakfast buffet, and off we went to explore the area of the Southern Arava Valley.
Our first stop, next to the border crossing with Jordan, was at the Eilat Bird Park. As avid readers will recall from our trip to the Hula Valley around a year ago, Israel is a major bird migration station with half a billion birds passing through the country every year in search of warmer climes and the associated increased available foodstuffs. This makes Israel the #2 bird migration centre in the world after Panama.
For many birds, Eilat is a final stop to build up energy before the long journey over the Sahara desert (or alternatively a first place to restock having crossed it travelling north) and so is a major spot for bird watching. Although we did not have time to wander through the park or sit out with our binoculars, we were fortunate that our guide had saved a few birds from her tagging that morning (they tag the birds for research purposes to try and track their migration patterns) for us to see.
We then headed north, admiring the flamingos that have taken up lodging in the nearby salt pools (albeit from a distance), arriving at the Avrona farms.
This ancient agricultural settlement dates from around the 9th century and utilised a 1.5km long network of underground tunnels to bring water here that would enable farming (the local water has a very high salt content). The technique is known in local Arabic as fugarrot (in Persia, whence it originates, it is known as a qanat system). We crawled through one of the small tunnels – researches believe they were dug by children or even a special team of dwarves!
A short jump north took us to a botanical stop at the Doum Palms. These multi-trunked palm trees are mostly found in the area of the Nile in Africa, the ones located in Israel in the Arava are the most northern instances of this tree in the world and hence are protected.
It was now time to stretch our legs and as we hiked through the Shechoret Canyon. Having made our way through the towering black granite walls of the canyon itself, we ascended to a beautiful viewpoint over the mountains in the area.
Our guide explained the geological processes that made up the multicoloured peaks and created the rift valley that is the Arava.
On our descent, we passed an ancient animal trap. We learned how it worked together with a little about the local predators. As evidenced on our first day of the campus, there used to be leopards roaming the area of the Negev, although they seem to have now died out (there are rumours that there are still some around though and it is fun to keep them going!).
Wildlife was the subject of our next step as with the sunset approaching we arrived at the Chai Bar. Again, avid readers will recall that we visited the northern Chai Bar during our trip to the Carmel Mountain at the beginning of the course! This is the southern version of this impressive project to research species that used to be in the area, which are now extinct, and to gradually reintroduce them.
We enjoyed a safari drive through the park and then visited the predators section; our guide had arranged for us to arrive at feeding time which meant we were able to see some of these impressive animals in action.
Our final stop, with darkness fast approaching, was at a desert kite. These large structures were first identified by RAF pilots in the 20th century; they are found all over the region – Syria, Jordan, Israel etc and were so called because of their resemblance to a toy kite: two walls sloping in to meet at a point.
In fact, they were anything but toys – research shows that the ancient inhabitants of the land used them to catch large herds of animals and then slaughter them. The remains themselves were not particularly impressive (viewed from a height, one gets a better idea of the scale of the things) but it was interesting to get an insight into how our forebears had a good understanding of the local wildlife; and managed to develop frankly ingenious methods to catch them.
We returned to Eilat, and it was time for a small celebration! Tonight was the first night of the festival of Chanukah and we concluded the day together with a communal candle lighting, followed, appropriately, by significant doughnut consumption!
This week, a later start (meeting at 8am, an extra 90 minutes of sleep!) as we were not leaving the confines of Tel Aviv. There are many museums in the city and several of them are concentrated around the university campus, located close to the northern suburb of Ramat Aviv. Today, we would be visiting some of these sites, partly to bed in some of what we have been learning in the classroom, and partly because these are important sites for us to be able to guide in the future.
The day began at the Zoological Gardens. Having studied Zoology in class, this was an opportunity to get relatively up close and personal with the various species of bird, mammal and reptile found in Israel. Our guide, a PhD student at the university, took us around the various enclosures, showing how the animals camouflaged themselves in their environment, explaining about their hunting or survival techniques and their distinguishing features.
There was a huge range of animals (as might be expected in a Zoological garden). The most interesting were those you don’t normally get to see up close; the wolves, hyena, wild boar and wild cats. Also the snakes. Although I don’t like snakes. And there are quite a few poisonous ones in Israel, it turns out. The advice was: a black snake in the centre of the country is not poisonous, a black snake in the South is likely to be either a black python or mole viper, and these are definitely best avoided. I’m not a big fan of snakes, truth be told. I was happy to return to the flamingos. Got to love flamingos. Apparently they are not pink naturally; it’s to do with the way their bodies break down the enzymes in the algae they eat. And they only mate when they’re in a big group (so the garden has mirrors around it to try and persuade them that they are more numerous than they actually are).
After a good dose of fauna it was time for some flora; the Botanical Gardens were right next door and we headed over to meet our Botany teacher. Again, it was a case of seeing what we had learned in the class, in the field. It’s one thing to see the plants, but also interesting to hear some of the stories and legends behind them. The Hairy Thymelea (I kid you not) is considered to be the plant that Samson was bound with when he was captured by the Philistines. The appropriately named Christ’s Thorn Jujube is thought to be the plant that was used to make Jesus’s thorn crown. And the Judas Tree has a pink blossom because it is embarrassed by its treachery. Most fun was when our guide spotted a chameleon in the bushes and proceeded to lift it up and show it to us while telling us that we should never do such a thing. So, we got in a little bit of Zoology in the Botanical Gardens too.
We enjoyed a lunch break strolling around the university campus (where there was a lunchtime rock concert…a hard life these students lead) and then it was time to visit the Palmach museum. The Palmach was the elite force of the Haganah, the pre-state defence force for the Jewish population of the British Mandate; many of its members played very important roles in civilian life, most famously Yitzchak Rabin and Moshe Dayan. In addition to learning how to fight, they also had to work the land. Hence the emblem of the unit had a sword together with two ears of wheat.
The museum is a walk through experience which follows the story of a group of Palmachnikim who join the unit and end up playing an important role in the War of Independence several years later. Unlike many museums there are no displays or exhibits, rather one moves through rooms and watches, hears, sometimes even smells the story of the Palmach through the eyes of this small group. It really is an amazing story; teenagers as young as 16-17 signed up and trained themselves with very limited weaponry; they then played an important role in defeating the five armies that invaded Israel when it declared independence, although sadly many of them died along the way and they are remembered in a touching memorial at the museum’s end. The museum is in Hebrew but a headset providing an English translation is available.
Our final stop of the day was the Diaspora museum which is actually inside the university campus. Founded in the late 70s by Nachum Goldmann and Abba Kovner, the museum was designed to answer the question of how the Jewish people managed to (largely) maintain their religion and culture in 2000 years of exile. Sadly, the museum seems a little dated; it seemed much the same as I remember it from 10 years ago and has not taken advantage of the advances in technology and museum design. But it still provides a good introduction to Jewish life, ritual and rites of passage; insights into communities outside of Israel and perhaps most interestingly, a collection of model replicas of synagogues from around the world of historical significance. Although I felt that Bevis Marks, the oldest synagogue in Britain, should probably have been featured, and wasn’t. Which hurt my national pride a little. Still, it is an important museum, I remember that my visit to the museum was the first time I really heard in detail about Jews who were from a radically different background to mine (the UK community is quite homogenous). And it’s quite amazing that despite being so spread out over such a long period of time, the core aspects of the religion remained the same everywhere. And on that positive note, it was time to head home.
The Hula Valley is in the North of Israel; North of the Kineret (the Sea of Galilee) and on the way to the Golan Heights. While I have definitely passed through it on a few occasions, I think this was my first time actually visiting the sites in and around the valley.
I was familiar, however, with our first stop of the day, the First Aliyah town of Rosh Pina. Although I hadn’t been there for 10 years. We began our day at the lovely lookout point of Mitzpe Nimrod, but sadly it came with an upsetting story. Nimrod Segev was called up for reserve duty in the Second Lebanon War, and never came home. His family built the lookout in his memory, and we heard briefly from his father. It is a sad reminder of the fragility of life in this region.
We heard about the history of Rosh Pina, and learned about the First Aliyah. This was the first wave of mass immigration to Israel from the Diaspora in more recent history, beginning in 1882. These new arrivals were not the young socialist ideologues of the kibbutz movement; rather religious bourgeois families looking to make a new home in Israel. Sadly, it seems that life here was very difficult indeed. Our guide told us the stories of the inhabitants through the restored buildings of the old town and the memoires of the town’s founder, David Shuv. The former office of the Baron de Rothschild’s clerks is now a small museum with a surprisingly interesting film about life in the early days of the town. The old town itself is quaint and has a few cute little cafes; it will be nice to pop back here at some point, there are a couple of hikes in the area and a nice rustic café would be the perfect ending.
We moved on to the Castle of Chastellet, the ruins of a Crusader fort which was destroyed after just ten months of existence by Saladin’s forces. Our guide painted a picture of the battle and the political ramifications of this fortress next to an important crossing of the Jordan River: Jacob’s Ford. The young King of Jerusalem was pressurised into building the fort by hawkish knights in his administration; even though it broke an agreement with Saladin not to try to seize control of the Jordan’s crossings. Saladin offered twice (with increasing amounts) to pay the king not to build the fort, but construction went ahead and deconstruction followed… The history was interesting, but also of note was that this fort is built right on the line of the Afro-Syrian rift which runs up the East of Israel. The evidence of this was that you could see how half of the North and South walls of the fort had moved gradually ahead of the other half; now there is up to 2 metres’ difference, after just 1000 years. In geological terms, that’s almost light speed. Quite fascinating.
After this brief interlude in Crusader times we returned to the (relatively) modern day with a stop at the memorial for the Mishmar Hayarden settlement. This was also founded in the First Aliyah period. Due to the murder of one of the residents during the Arab revolt in the later 1930s, a small group of youths affiliated to the right-wing movement Beitar arrived to help with self-defence and also to assist with the farming. Then, in 1948, the Syrian army came over the border. Once they were repelled South of the Kineret they tried moving in North, and Mishmar Hayarden was the first settlement they encountered. The 20 families who lived there were no match for the Syrian army complete with tanks and air force and the town was captured and most of its citizens taken prisoner. The Haganah (soon to be the IDF) did not try and protect the town; after the war the prisoners were released but were not given the support of many others in similar situations and were not allowed to return to their land by the Israeli government. Some have said it was because Mishmar Hayarden was associated with the Right (because of the Beitar presence) and with the vast majority of Israel (and particularly the government) on the left, they were not afforded the support they should have had. Indeed, the site remained empty until the Begin government of the late 70s (Israel’s first right-wing government) when the memorial was built out of the stones of the former buildings.
On this slightly depressing note we headed further North and finally reached our destination of the Hula Valley nature reserve. Before going into the reserve we went to the Oforia [a cunning pun on the Hebrew for bird, off, and for euphoria] exhibit, which talked about the geological formation of the Hula valley and the animals and birds within it. It was somewhat overdramatic but really rather fun, particularly the interactive trivia quiz at the end and then the 3D film about the migrating birds with moving seats.
Having enjoyed this most interactive of exhibits we entered the reserve and learned about the modern history of the Hula Lake. At the turn of the 20th Century this area contained lakes and swampland. As one of the early grand Zionist projects, the Israelis famously drained the water away. This was to help combat malaria (although it is unclear if malaria was still an issue at this point) and to free up land for agriculture. There was also the desire to put bases there against the threat of a future Syrian invasion.
It really was a marvellous feat of human ingenuity and engineering. Sadly, it was also an ecological disaster. The Hula was home to a vast array of flora and fauna, whose habitats suddenly disappeared. And there was also a problem of underground fires starting with the bare earth suddenly exposed to the strong sun, rendering the soil unusable for agriculture and also having the small problem of fire popping up all over the place.
So, parts of the area have been returned to their original lake and swamp condition, and we are able to enjoy them (almost) as they originally were. Having wandered around the reserve we popped slightly further North to the Agamon reserve, also a man-made lake. This is particularly good for observing birds.
Every year half a billion (!) birds migrate through Israel. This huge number is caused by the fact that Israel is a land bridge between Europe, Asia and Africa, and birds like to travel over land as the thermals mean they do not need to expend as much energy in flapping their wings. It is currently migration season and we arrived at the Agamon site at dusk. There was an incredible moment when I realised that the approaching clouds on the horizon were actually vast flocks of birds; a veritable swarm who took their turn to land in our around the lake in order to spend the night there, accompanied by a veritable cacophony of squawking and screeching. It really was quite magnificent, as I stood there I was overwhelmed by the forces of nature before me. It was a perfect ending to the day; soothing, contemplative, serene.
When people ask me for recommendations about what to see and do in Israel, the region of the Sharon coastal plain does not tend to feature in my replies. Stretching from the Taninim stream in the North to the Yarkon in the South, or in city terms from just North of Caesarea to the Northern border of Tel Aviv, it is a very important area for Israel. It has the highest concentration of inhabitants. It contains several cities of note, a lot of important agriculture and a plenty of history. But, with the exception of Caesarea, the famous Herodian port city, it does not contain a huge amount of stops on the regular tourist trail. It’s also part of the coastal plain, so it has some nice beaches and cliff tops, but is rather flat, which does not make for particularly exciting scenery.
However, the guiding course covers everything, so we were to spend a day in the Sharon region. And I was pleasantly surprised by what we discovered; not necessarily enough to warrant a detour by a first time visitor to Israel, but plenty to interest the more seasoned traveller in search of something a little different.
We began our day at a viewpoint in the small moshav of Tzur Natan, right next to the Green Line. Technically we were not in the Sharon, rather in the foothills of the Samarian mountains, but we did have a good view over the Sharon in all its flatness. Here we learned about the history of the region; the name Sharon is an Akkadian word meaning forest, and indeed until quite late in the Ottoman period the area was covered with forests. This, together with the large amounts of swamps (which attracter malarial mosquitoes) meant that in fact it was one of the least inhabited regions of the country. It was only when the Zionists began to successfully drain the swamps that people began to settle here in there masses, due to the proclivity of water and the ease of building on flat land.
We moved on to the nearby Ottoman period tomb for the Sheikh Musharef, a local holy man. The tomb was built on top of a Samaritan synagogue (you can tell as it faces Shechem/Nablus, and not Jerusalem), from the 6th century. We could identify the mikve (ritual bath). We paused in the site to learn about the geology of the Sharon area; its formation, the types of rock etc. All useful background for the rest of the day.
We descended to the coastal plain to the Kakun reserve. Here we paused by the memorial to the Alexandroni brigade who overcame the Iraqi army who had reached this point in the 1948 War of Independence. I find stories about the 48 war particularly interesting as the odds were so massively stacked against the nascent Israeli country. Daring and bravery, together with a significant chunk of good fortune, won the day.
We then climbed the hill to the ruins of the Crusader fortress which used to stand at this point with an overview of two very important ancient roads: the Sea Road (Via Maris) which did not actually go along the sea shore, rather along the valley where you can now find route 6; and the road that ran from Caesarea to Shechem. We wandered around the ruins and admired the strength of the structure which had endured for so long.
It was time for a hike. We were dropped off by the turtle park at the Alexander stream. We learned about the habits of these soft-shelled turtles which have been enabled to flourish in the stream thanks to an extensive programme to clean it from various pollutants which had been killing off the wildlife. The project is a joint project between Israel and the Palestinians, as the stream source lies in Palestinian controlled land, and it was even awarded a prize in Australia as a result of its great success in cleaning up the stream. Heart warming!
We enjoyed a pleasant stroll down the stream, concluding at the Khirbet Samra ruins, where our guide illustrated how the building had passed through different peoples (Arabs, Turks, British and Israelis) through history through a remarkable feat of rapid costume changing which certainly made the story much more entertaining. Good inspiration for our future guiding experiences.
Our bus met us at the hike’s end and we travelled north to the Cheftzi-ba agricultural farm. This land, just outside Hadera, was bought by an association called the Netaim (planters) at the turn of the 20th century. The idea was to make it into farmland and sell it to new immigrants who were interested in farming but didn’t want to start from scratch. To water the fields, they had Israel’s first pump (steam powered) which drew water and pushed it around the farm. Sadly a poisonous cocktail of locusts and the outbreak of WWI led to the collapse of the enterprise. The farm is now run by the national electricity company who refurbished it, partly to make up for the massive power station located at Hadera, and you can visit the old buildings, watch a surprisingly interesting film (these tourist site films used to have very low production values, but are rapidly improving) about the farm’s history (subtitled in English) and, in migration season, view some of the 2 million (yes, million!) cormorants who pass through on their way from Sibera to warmer climes.
Our penultimate stop took us back to ancient times as we toured the excavations at Apollonia (also known as Arsuf). Located next to Hertzliya Pituach, on the coast, this site has only been opened relatively recently for tourists. It contains the remains of a crusader fortress and also a very impressive Roman villa, together with some limited remains from the original Phoenician village where they manufactured glass along with the valuable argaman and techelet dyes. As if the archaeology was not interesting enough, the site commands wonderful views from a cliff top above the Mediterranean Sea; on a clear day Jaffa is visible in the South, Netanya in the North. We heard the story of the different generations of settlement in this place, together with the story of its violent destruction by the Baibars. Mind you, I’m sure the Crusaders would have been just as unpleasant to the Baibars, had they had half the chance. Given the proximity of this site to Tel Aviv (around 20 minutes drive), it’s definitely worth a short jump out of the city if one has a couple of hours free and wants to get a taste of ancient history from among the hustle and bustle of the modern metropolis.
We concluded the day just a short drive away from Apollonia at the mosque built around the tomb of Sidna Ali, a great local leader of the 11th century; legend says that he could always tell the truth and people would come to him for judgement of disputes. Once he died he was buried here and to settle disputes people would come and walk towards a stone with their eyes closed. The first to touch the stone is the one who is telling the truth. From this peaceful location we learned about the Mamluk policy of building holy pilgrimage sites along the coast to ensure a constant flow of pilgrims who would be able to keep an eye out for any future Crusader attack. Whether or not Sidna Ali is buried here is up for discussion – there are two other sites in Israel which also claim the honour. The British banned Muslims from visiting this site as punishment for their rebellion in the 1930s, and it fell into disrepair. Recently, the Waqf (the Muslim religious authority here) petitioned the government for the land, and successfully took over the site and restored it. It really rather picturesque.
So, it seems the Sharon was able to throw up a fair amount of positive surprises. Somewhat off the regular tourist trail, it is true, but with some sites that are well worth a visit.
After our desert adventures last week it was now time to head northwards to the somewhat leafier region of Mount Carmel. I’m beginning to appreciate the unearthly hour at which I have to leave the house for the day trip. We are between times in Tel Aviv, as it were. The late night revellers have made their way home; the gainfully employed are yet to start their commute; and so the city rests, tranquil, the odd street cleaner pottering about here and there. A rest before the craziness begins once more.
Mount Carmel is actually less of a mountain and more of a mountain range. Or rather, more of a large hill range, as at its high point it reaches just 546m above sea level; even Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest peak, is over two times taller. It is an offshoot of the Samarian hills, geographically speaking, although it is not directly connected, at least anymore, thanks to various bits of tectonic activity and weathering.
We began our day with a panoramic view over the Oren stream (note that most streams in Israel don’t actually contain water during most of the year) from the Mishmar HaCarmel Nature Reserve. We learned about the geographical features of the range, the Mediterranean Woodland that one finds on its slopes (largely evergreen, meaning that we have a landscape that consistently retains a lush, green appearance), and the history of its settlement. Due to the lack of fresh water (only three springs on the mountain) it was largely devoid of human settlement until recent times; even now it is mostly woodland and large swathes of the range have been designated as a National Park which means that further building is prohibited.
We continued on our way, sadly witness to scenes of devastation still present from the terrible forest fire of December 2010. I remember driving up to Netanya and seeing the huge plumes of smoke billowing towards the heavens. The fire raged for four days, claiming 44 lives, and reached temperatures of up to an incredible 1000°C. On our route, we passed the place where 37 prison cadet officers, on their way to evacuate the prison at the top of the hill, were trapped by the fire and tragically did not manage to escape. They are remembered by a recently dedicated monument.
Our next stop was in the area of Little Switzerland, so called by European immigrants for whom the greenery reminded of my former home. As much as it is lovely, I’m not sure how close it comes to representing the beauty of the Swiss countryside, but I suppose that in comparison to the flatness of the coastal plain and the barrenness of the southern deserts, the association makes sense. And I imagine that, so far from homes in Europe, in a time when communication across such distances would have been very difficult, it was probably nice to have some sort of connection to their places of origin.
The area is full of hiking trails and for the first time so far on the course we took one of these, down towards the Yuval Katan stream, learning how to read the trail signs and identifying various plants as we went. Eventually we reached our destination, a large ‘notch’ in the rock formed by erosion over millions of years. We sat, rested and enjoyed the view over the Kelach stream, while our guide explained to us the geological processes which formed such notches and why they were present in the area. We hiked back, enjoying the freshness of the mountain air, and the pleasant temperatures; quite the contrast to last week’s venture into the desert where temperatures were still searing even though it was early November.
From the end of the trail it was just a short bus ride to the Chai Bar. This is an intriguing project, initiated by the Nature and Parks Authority in Israel. For different reasons, over the decades and centuries, various types of animals that were native to Israel have become extinct. In the Carmel region, it was largely because of hunting. So, the Chair Bar organisation was set up to try and reintroduce these animals to the Israeli landscape. There are two locations, one in the Negev desert, and one here on the Carmel. The animals are sourced from various locations in the Mediterranean and Middle East, gradually acclimatised to Israel, and then released into the wild. It has been running since the seventies with quite some success; in this reserve some of the animals include various types of deer, eagles and a fire salamander. There is a short explanatory film which includes quite an exciting story set against the backdrop of the Iranian revolution; the Israelis had arrived to collect some pre-ordered animals when the revolution broke out, and just managed to get them and get them onto the last El Al flight out of the country using a good combination of initiative and chutzpah. Afterwards, one can wander around the enclosures and enjoy the view from the lookout point. A note for any budding visitors: apart from weekends and chol hamoed (intermediary days of festivals) you can only access the Chai Bar as part of a group which has pre-arranged the visit.
From the Chai Bar we crossed over the 672 road (the main road on Mt Carmel) to another fascinating conservation project: Derech HaDorot (Road of the Millennia). In this case however, the focus is on antiquities rather than wildlife. As you can imagine, Israel is full of areas of archaeological interest. In addition, as a country with a rapidly expanding population and developing economy, there is a great deal of construction and development. We learned about the Law of Antiquities which means that any construction project that discovers archaeological remains needs to pause their work for the experts to move in and excavate; the construction company even has to fund the excavations. However, once the digs are over and the archaeologists have removed whatever artefacts can be salvaged and photographed where relevant, the remains are built over, never to be seen again.
This is where the late Dr Reuben Hecht comes into the picture. He set up the Hecht Foundation, part of whose remit is to salvage these sites and painstakingly extract them from their location in full, moving them to a new site, Derech HaDorot, so we can enjoy them for posterity. Without meaning to sound crass, it’s a sort of Disneyland for archaeologists who can peruse numerous structures from different parts of the country and different time periods in a relatively small space. I found it remarkable and think it’s a great project; the best thing is that it will only get better with time as more excavations occur.
Within walking distance was another viewpoint, known as Mitzpe HaMifratz, where we enjoyed the view over the Valley of Akko. Here we heard the story of the 200 Days of Terror in 1942 when it was feared the Nazi forces were about to reach the British Mandate of Palestine. The Jews made plans to make a last stand on the Carmel; fortunately these plans were never needed.
We continued on foot down a hiking trail to the Grove of the Forty (Churshat HaArbaim), a site that is holy for the Druze people (more on them later) and contains trees that are around 400 years old. The site was peaceful and beautiful, I could understand why it would be considered holy. We received a short preamble about the Druze religion and the trees in the area.
Much more on the Druze was to come in their biggest city in Israel: Daliyat-al-Carmel. We walked into the old town, ending at the relatively new memorial to the Druze who have sadly fallen in Israel’s wars. The Druze are a small people (around 1 million globally) who are mostly based in Israel, Lebanon and Syria. The religion dates back 1000 years and began in Egypt before persecution forced them to flee to the areas where they are based today.
Probably because of this persecution, the religion is a closely guarded secret; they also have a principal of fierce loyalty to the government of whichever country is their base. This is why many Druze sided with the Israelis in the War of Independence; since the 60s they also have mandatory conscription to the Israeli army (unlike the Bedouin or other Israeli Arabs) and are much more assimilated into Israeli society. On the way out of the old town we passed the shrine to Abu Ibrahim, one of the first preachers of the Druze faith. It is said that he hid in a cave here while escaping persecution (sadly a regular theme for the Druze). It is a pretty building and worth a visit if passing through Daliyat-al-Carmel for its popular market. Speaking of which, we gladly received fifteen minutes of free time to peruse said market. I put this time to good use by heading straight for a sweet shop. Delicious!
Our final stop of the day was at the Muchraka, a Carmelite Monastery said to be at the site where the prophet Elijah challenged the prophets of the Canaanite god Baal to a showdown in order to prove God’s might. The story (related in 1 Kings 18) is great; a good mix of danger, drama, suspense and a cheeky bit of humour. All topped off with a divine miracle, not something to be sniffed at. As our guide related the story, I tried to picture the scene; the prophets of Baal struggling to save face; the multitude of the people watching in awe. Elijah certainly had a flair for the theatrical.
We finished off with a brief visit to the chapel and we concluded the final hours of daylight with the magnificent panorama from the balcony on the monastery roof (my picture sadly did not come out well, so thanks to Wikipedia for the above). And with that, it was time to head home. Until next week!