There's Something Rotten in Akko (and It's Not the Falafel)

Our Man in Israel Follows His Nose to the Old City

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By Tuvia Tenenbom

Published May 18, 2014, issue of May 23, 2014.
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But before I do that, I meet up with a charming lady named Pascale, who works for the Akko tourist office.

How old is the Old City? I ask her.

“Quite new,” she tells me — it was built somewhere around 1800. The real Old City, and in fact more than just one of them, can to this day be seen in various excavations. When various invaders captured the city, they destroyed it and built a new one upon the ruins of the old.

What happened to biblical Akko? I ask.

“Destroyed ages upon ages ago.”

How did the current Old City come into being?

“Ahmad al-Jazzar, the Ottoman governor, built it. He was a strong leader and even Napoleon, who laid a siege on the city, was defeated by him.”

In Arabic, al-Jazzar means “the butcher of people.” I ask if he got this name because he defeated Napoleon.

Not really, says Pascale, who proceeds to tell me an oft-related legend about Al-Jazzar. One day, when he was away for some business, he heard a rumor that one of his wives had betrayed him. He returned to his palace and ordered all his wives to stand in line. He was certain, so goes the story, that by looking into the eyes of his women he would be able to determine which wife was betraying him. But no pair of eyes stood out.And so, not able to ascertain which of his wives had betrayed him, he cut off the heads of all of them.

Ahmad also had a Jewish financial adviser by the name of Farkhi, Pascale tells me. One day, Ahmad decided to blind him in one eye and maim him in one hand. The Jew, half-blind and half-maimed, didn’t budge for a moment and faithfully continued to serve his lord.

It is Saturday today, and Ms. Pascale takes me for a walk in the Souk, the Old City’s market. I can’t spot any open sewage or rats, but instead I notice that the place is exploding with shoppers and tourists, most of whom speak Hebrew.

How many Jews, I ask her, live in the Old City?

“The Jews shop here, but no Jew lives here.”

This was not always the case. In the old days, Jews used to live here, and some were actually big rabbis who had their synagogues here. Up to 10 years ago, she adds, there were signs on the walls of Akko’s Old City’s pointing to those synagogues, but the Arabs living here ripped them off.

The “Frankfurt Arabs,” it turns out, are not really in Frankfurt.

We are in Israel, inside the so-called Green Line; how come no Jew is living here? I ask.


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