Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Thu 15 Jul 2010 04:40

We read in our Lonely Planet Guide to Israel and the Palestinian Territories that ‘the German Colony is the city’s premier address for fine dining’ and this is where we took ourselves on our second night in Haifa, as we thought it would be the most likely place to find an Internet connection as well as enjoying a good dinner.  We had stayed on board during the middle of the day as the temperature reached 40oC and any sort of movement was impossible.

The German Colony is so-called because it was founded by a German group called the Templars (not the same as the Knights Templars of the Middle Ages) in the late 19th century, a Christian group whose aim was to help Palestine get ready for the second coming of Christ.  Nowadays it is a wide street, climbing up the mountainside, lined with restaurants and culminating in the Baha’i Temple and Gardens.  The Bahai’s are a religious group, originating in Iran in 1844, who claim 6 million followers worldwide.  Baha’i is a sort of Esperanto of all religions, believing in unity, harmony, equality and world peace – all those good things which are so hard to achieve (especially in this region).

The night in the restaurant in the German Colony was delightful – sitting outside in the cool evening air, trees full of lights like in a painting by Renoir, delicious food and wine and a charming waiter, who learning that we had arrived on our own boat, asked to be adopted.  We returned to our boat in good spirits, entering into a fenced enclosure with heavily armed guards on the gate, but to our dismay a throbbing disco was in full swing on a piece of wasteland behind the yacht park.  It seems that although there is massive security at the entrance to this part of the port, we border onto a public park where it’s the custom for people to organise private disco parties.  Ian remonstrated with the DJ who said he was tired and would soon be winding down, but it went on until at least 1.30 am.  We snatched a couple of hours of sleep but then woke to sounds of shouting and a sort of mini-riot between a group of Jewish boys and a group of Arabs.  One of the boys climbed onto the boat, shouting ‘Fatah! Arab!” as a sort of explanation.  Ian shouted at him “Get off my boat”.  I cowered in the cabin, thinking Ian was very brave.  The boy went away and Ian went to complain to the security guards who usually sit under a tree near the boat.  The guards explained that the boys regularly got together at weekends and had a massive fight, but there was nothing they could do about it.

The next day we drove north to the Golan  Heights.  It is a beautiful region, in the foothills of Mount Hermon, with many vineyards, forests and rivers which flow into the Sea of Galilee.  The whole area measures only about 100 km x 40 km, bordering both Lebanon and Syria.  It was won from Syria by the Israelis in the Six Day War in 1967. The Syrians tried, and failed, to win it back in the Yom Kippur War in  1973, and it’s been a hot potato ever since, but I can’t see Israel ever giving it up.

On the way back to Haifa we drove to Akko, known in history as Acre, the fabled port which was a Crusader stronghold and was visited by St. Francis of Assisi and Marco Polo amongst many other illustrious travellers of the Middle Ages.  Our first sight of the Old Town was promising as we saw stone horseshoe arches leading into narrow cobbled streets, and a high sea wall, but unfortunately, walking around old Acre was extremely disappointing as it was probably the filthiest place I have ever seen.    It was far dirtier than Palermo or even parts of India and Pakistan.  Butchers threw their unwanted bits of meat, bone and offal onto the street, rotting vegetables and plastic bags were everywhere.  Every cobble was loaded with ingrained dirt.  It does not have one stone which dates back to the Crusades, as the city was raised to the ground  in 1290 by the Mamluks  (Egyptian Muslims who conquered Palestine in the 13th Century) when they laid siege to the town, massacring any inhabitants who were unable to escape, and bringing an end to Outremer.  The town as we see it today was rebuilt in the 18th Century and the inhabitants are Palestinian.

That night we joked “Wwhat will it be tonight, disco or riot” and in fact it was both, as this time there was an Arab disco, followed by a lot of loud noise and fighting. Ian got up three times to remonstrate.  I was impressed by his courage.  On the second time he took a security guard, who was Romanian with him, who explained that the Arabs were Jews from Morocco, and other North African countries who are welcomed and encouraged to immigrate to Israel.  Once here they stay in their own ethnic groups, and the tinny Arabic disco was also a regular event at the weekend. This time, as another riot started, Ian called the police on the ship’s radio, who dispelled the rioters, but not before two dishevelled Arab men climbed on board, asking for water.   They were also sent packing by an irate captain as the crew trembled down below.

After the weekend which can last for three days, depending on which religious group you are amongst, everything became very peaceful in Haifa port, but we decided to move on before hostilities began again!