24 December 2010

Akhzivland

[At Christmastime in 1982, I made a trip to Israel and Egypt (which had just signed a peace agreement that allowed travel between the two countries for the first time since 1948), spending about two weeks in both countries. I was in Cairo for Christmas Day (though I mailed my holiday cards from Bethlehem where the post office has a special window just for that purpose), but while I was visiting Israel, my group drove north to Acre (Akko) and en route the tour guide pointed out an odd little place on the Mediterranean, tucked into a national park. The story of this place was so strange that when I returned to New York, I collected some clippings from the Jerusalem Post (my friend Helen by then had moved to Tel Aviv and wrote for the paper). I’ve added some additional research, but the following report is based largely on the JP coverage of that peculiar place and the man who created it.]

About 2½ miles north of Nahariya along Israel’s Mediterranean coast, about six miles south of the Lebanese border, is Akhziv (the name’s spelled variously depending on how it’s transliterated from Hebrew), a picturesque old fishing village. Known in Arabic as al-Zib (in various spellings also), it was abandoned by its Palestinian inhabitants after the 1948 War of Independence. (The Arabs, who have a different name for this war, say they were forced out, but I’m not debating the politics or history of the Middle East here). The village dates back to Phoenician times (Middle Canaanite period of the Bronze Age, around 1800–1550 B.C.E.) and is even mentioned (as Achzib) in the Bible. (See Joshua 15:44 and 19:29, when Joshua divides up the territories among the tribes of Israel, Akhziv being assigned to the tribe of Asher; also Judges 1:31, and Genesis 38:5 as Chezib.) Over its 3500 years of inhabitation, the area’s been occupied by Egyptians, Assyrians, Israelites, Persians, Macedonians, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans, and Arabs. It’s an archeological site, Tel Akhziv, and a tourist beach location, part of Akhziv National Park.

Just north of the park, fenced off, but tolerated by the Israeli government, stands Akhzivland, a 2½-acre “micronation,” a designation for the sometimes fanciful states conceived, usually without any international recognition, by iconoclastic dreamers and antiestablishment rebels. (Some micronations—not to be confused with microstates, which are just very tiny, but real, countries—aren’t of this planet . . . or even of this plane of consciousness.) It used to be a hang-out and campground for hippies and other nonconformists, but currently, Akhzivland has but a few permanent structures and two permanent residents: its president, prime minister, or king, Eli Avivi; and his wife, Rina, his foreign minister. Looking today like a pacific guru (or, as some have noted, the very image of God), dressed in white caftans and sandals with flowing white hair (he’s gone bald in the front now, though) and a full white beard (Santa Claus in mufti might be another description), Avivi is a thorn in the paw of all authority, a monument to determination and resistance. Akhzivland, the frequent venue of rock concerts by Israeli bands, is also a boon for travelers ready to rough it a little (there are few amenities other than the magnificent scenery and view) and unwilling to spend the money for traditional accommodations. (Admission to Akhzivland was free; today there’s a few-dollar entrance charge.)

Born in Iran around 1930, Avivi moved to Tel Aviv the next year with his family, which was Jewish (not an easy existence in Iran even before the founding of Israel). As soon as he was old enough to do so, he joined other boys his age to carry out sabotage against the British Mandatory forces in Palestine in the early struggle to force them to leave the Holy Land and open the way for the establishment of a Jewish state. “Many times we were caught by the British soldiers and brought before a court,” Avivi has recounted, “but my father knew the judge and we were only fined.”

After World War II, Avivi joined the Palyam, the naval forces of the Palmach, the underground (and illegal) armed forces of the Jewish settlers in Palestine. The “underground navy” was principally responsible for smuggling new Jewish immigrants, mostly the displaced or disenfranchised remainder of the Jewish communities in formerly Nazi-occupied countries, from Europe to Palestine. (Think of the scene near the beginning of Exodus with Paul Newman, as Ari Ben Canaan, on board the refugee ship in the harbor in Cyprus. This was a fictionalized account of a real incident in 1947.) After the British were forced to leave Palestine in 1947, the Palmach fought the Arab forces allied against the new state in the Israeli War of Independence. When Israel was established in 1948, Avivi remained at sea, signing onto fishing boats in the Mediterranean and later the North Sea, sailing the world as a seaman as far away as Greenland, Iceland, and Norway.

Avivi, a soft-spoken, gentle man who doesn’t share the harsher, gruffer demeanor of the stereotypical Israeli, is nevertheless regarded by his fellow Israelis as a colorful, eccentric, free-spirited non-conformist. He first came to Akhziv in 1952 when he was visiting his sister who lived in a nearby village. “I walked to the coast and came across this place known as Akhziv. I fell in love with it and decided to make my home here,” he explained. Avivi managed to get a lease from the government for some buildings on the abandoned property, which was essentially empty land with just the ruin of an old Arab house, the mukhtar’s residence, on the grounds. The coast was pristine and entirely undeveloped. Indeed, it’s still a quiet and serene spot: to the north loom the rolling, lush hills of southern Lebanon; east, the mountains of Naphtali in the western Galilee; and nine miles south, the Crusader town of Acre (also called Akko), one of the oldest ports in the world. To the west lay the crystal azure waters of the Mediterranean. Some visitors have characterized the setting as one of the most romantic places on Earth.

In 1959, Israel proclaimed the acreage around Avivi’s home a national park. In September 1963, construction workers started clearing the land “to survey the village and propose plans for its future,” according to the Director of the Committee for the Conservation of Historical Sites. Over the years, “The Hermit of Akhziv” had turned the old buildings within his fenced-in grounds into dormitories and a communal kitchen where guests could cook their own food and set up a party site, barbecue pit, and picnic area. In the years since he settled there, Avivi’s studied the history of the area and collected objects found, dug up on the grounds, or recovered on dives off the beach; he displays his huge collection in his own Museum of Akhzivland—coins, pottery shards, weapons, tools, stone tablets—in the former mukhtar’s residence. (Avivi charges a small fee to visit the museum.) In the early ‘60s, Avivi married Rina and she came to live with him in Akhziv. But though he’d lived there for about 10 years by this time, he’d never had any legal claim to the land. He was little more than a squatter in the eyes of the law, though in this part of Israel’s “frontier,” the authorities essentially looked the other way and left Avivi in peace.

In March 1966, however, the Israeli government condemned Avivi’s house and ordered him to leave. Having built a home and established his museum to preserve the history of the area, he felt he ought to have some rights. In the beginning, "I made my living selling fish and fruit to the neighboring kibbutzim," Avivi recalled, "but when they realized what a marvelous place I had, jealousy started.” In his typical fashion, Avivi asserted, “Everyone seemed to declare war on me. The ministry of defense claimed the place for security reasons. The neighboring settlements wanted to develop it for tourism. Finally the government demanded that I move. I refused." On 29 March, a Nahariya resident protested to The Jerusalem Post:

Sir – To my dismay I read in today’s “Postbag” that Eli Avivi is to be evicted from Achziv where he had been living for many years and has blended with the landscape I think this is most unjust because he means an addition to this beauty spot in Western Galilee.

Why must the Lands Authority destroy the museum and everything Eli Avivi has built with love? He should be given every help because he constitutes an attraction for everyone who visits this picturesque village.

Perhaps the Ministry of Tourism can step in here to do something about it.

On 24 April, an official of the National Parks Authority in Tel Aviv replied:

As the plan for this place has not yet been completed, we do not know whence your correspondent got the information concerning the destruction of the museum or the eviction of Mr. Avivi.

The ultimate clash occurred in the 1970s. The Israeli government took legal action against the hippie squatter in 1971 and “One day,” stated Avivi bluntly, “the authorities came with two bulldozers and flattened my home.” But history has a tendency to intervene and change the subject, even if it’s only temporarily.

On Friday night, 1 January 1971, an Al-Fatah team landed by boat on the West Galilee coast. Avivi told several dramatic versions of the events but the version he told soon after was that the Coast Guard had warned him that the intruders were likely to come ashore on his beach, which was especially suited for a clandestine landing. Avivi, then about 40, had 10 guests staying at his hostel; he reported that sometime after midnight, his German shepherd, Lopsi, barked and he grabbed his gun and went outside. He said he saw the rubber boat approach when the Fatah men in frogmen outfits stepped ashore so he slipped back to the house and phoned the police who arrived in force and surprised the would-be invaders. The security authorities briefly converted Avivi’s house, about 55 yards from the beach, into an ops center and after a brief search, found that another three terrorists had landed but fled. An Israeli Air Force helicopter pursued and caught two of the men; the third escaped.

Avivi believed that the Fatah invaders intended to kidnap him and even suggested that the Sulam Tsur Regional Council, with which he’d been feuding for some 15 years by then, might have been pleased if the invaders had succeeded. Avivi also quipped to a radio reporter that a stay in Lebanon would have given him some rest from his troubles.

On 31 January, however, the Parks Authority bulldozers started demolishing some old buildings in Akhziv. In a telegram to Prime Minister Golda Meir, Avivi wrote:

I strongly protest the contamination of the destruction of Achziv . . . the Fatah men who visited this beach about a month ago were tame . . . compared with those . . . who try to destroy every beautiful spot in the country. The question comes to mind, ‘What does Israel really exist for?’ I ask for your immediate intervention to stop this criminal destruction of Achziv.

According to local lore, Avivi grabbed his gun again and defied the earthmovers. He was charged with the absurd-sounding “establishing a country without permission”—I wonder if Washington, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, et al., had “permission” from anyone to start the U.S.?—but Avivi recounts that the judge sympathized with him: “He threw out the action against me and said there was no case to answer.” According to Avivi’s own account, the magistrate said, “I know Eli Avivi. I give him permission, he can do what he want [sic]."

On 11 April, Avivi staged a protest, as he occasionally did, against the Nature Reserves Authority, charging it was marring Akhziv’s natural beauty by its development projects. With a group of hippies of both sexes, including a “topless” girl, by his side, Avivi rounded up some journalists and held a press conference, telling “anyone who would listen that . . . I just wanted to be allowed to live in my own place, in my own way.” Avivi pronounced the grounds on which he’d lived for two decades, sovereign territory—its flag, a worn T-shirt with the painted figure of a man picking an apple. Posters on the wall around the acreage read in Hebrew and English: THIS IS THE STATE OF AKHZIV. SHOW YOUR PASSPORT. The newly-proclaimed president explained brightly, “I loved Israel. I fought for Israel. But I didn’t like the government. So I made a passport for myself and declared this place independent, just as Israel itself did before me.” President Avivi observed: “This way I can stay in Israel, but in my own country.” He even wrote a constitution for his micronation and designed a suitable flag—"the legendary mermaid on Akhziv background." The micronational head of state also selected a state emblem, "a torch blazing in darkness," and a national anthem—the sound of the waves.

On 25 April, the Magistrate’s Court in Nahariya ordered the demolition of a wooden cabin that Avivi built without a permit; the president said it was to serve for parties and a Woodstock-like festival in August. The magistrate suspended the execution of the order for two weeks so Avivi could appeal to a higher court.

When Avivi first occupied Akhziv, he claimed he was holding it in trust for the former Palestinian inhabitants. He never put much emphasis on this; in fact, he never seemed to have much of a political cause or a philosophical position; he certainly never preached or speechified about it. “I’m not a political man,” Avivi has said. In reality, it seemed that his only real agenda was to live freely according to his own lights, with as little establishment interference as possible. He welcomed anyone who came along who wanted to share his vision, whether for a day, an overnight, or longer.

Who stayed at Akhzivland back in the day? Around 50 hippies were staying at Akhzivland that spring, about half footloose young Europeans on their way to South Asia “to find themselves” and guitar-playing globetrotters from the U.S. or South America, the rest free-spirited young Israelis. (Runaway minors were sometimes discovered among the visitors; they were sent back home when identified.) President Avivi asserted that Akhzivland was “the only country in the world which puts its hippie residents to productive and useful work,” and his visitors all performed chores at the little state: lighting kerosene lamps in the village, which has no electricity; tending the souvenir stand; protecting the woodwork with cottonseed oil. Two skilled carpenters from Switzerland made furniture. Avivi traded free food or use of the facilities for work on the grounds and buildings. There was also the occasional writer or artist as well. Most carried little luggage and fewer cares.

There was no discrimination in Akhzivland; every nationality and religion was welcome. President Avivi asked no questions and made no demands, as long as there was no harm to anyone. “I don’t examine marriage licenses, any more than the Tourism Ministry’s approved hotels do,” Avivi openly proclaimed. “But I will not tolerate orgies, or hashish smoking. I personally don’t smoke at all, not even cigarettes, and I preach against smoking of any kind.” The strongest drink he took himself was mint tea, but he didn’t object to his guests’ drinking wine. As for drugs, from hash on up, nature devotee Avivi objected to their use, claiming that he gradually weaned his visitors off them. “If they stay long enough in Achzivland,” he asserted, “I may cure them permanently.” And though orgies may not have been tolerated, underage sex was an occasional transgression at Akhzivland and Avivi and some of his “nationals” were charged from time to time and fined, though the men always claimed the girls told them they were of legal age. Avivi, however, didn’t object to nudity, which he insisted “blended well with the wonderful landscape here.” Nude beach-goers were common and a great attraction for vacationers at adjoining beaches at Akhziv National Park just over the fence. Though he said he’d done his best to keep his naturists out of public view, in May, a routine police drug patrol spotted 10 young men and women swimming and sunbathing nude at the independent state. Eight of the nudists slipped on bathing suits in time, but a 19-year-old Netanya girl and a 32-year-old Israeli-American were arrested in their . . . ummm natural state. After being charged with public nudity and indecent acts (unspecified, so you’re free to guess), the two were released on President Avivi’s bond.

In one corner of Akhzivland, a technician-secretary from Haifa sat in her bathing suit in front of a tent, simply “enjoying the quiet and the natural surroundings.” She and her 15-year-old son spent holidays and as many weekends as possible in Akhzivland. “You meet interesting people here,” she said.

Last Friday night there was a big party of Border Police officers and their wives. You meet people—intellectual people mainly—from over the world and from all religions, and from the better side of Israeli society. The atmosphere is free, you can wear a bathing suit all day and the quiet and peace are a tonic. Achzivland to me is one of the few small, quiet places still left that people who work to make an honest living can still afford.

A troop of American boys and girls, volunteers from a nearby kibbutz who’d been to Akhzivland for an overnight stay, piled into a truck. “It’s part of our end-of-work outing,” their kibbutznik guide explained. “It’s cheap and convenient and near the sea. It has everything we need, and we’re very satisfied.” It’s a regular event, the kibbutznik said, “We spend the evening having a good time in a kumsitz [an impromptu party] around the bonfire pit.”

President Avivi wanted recognition for his “state” to “stop the bulldozers” intent on razing his ruins and turning the village into part of the national park. He intended to put up more buildings and facilities for his visitors and tourists. In June, when Deputy Prime Minister Yigal Allon was touring Galilee and passed Akhziv, the self-appointed President Avivi petitioned him for official recognition of his “independent and autonomous state” by the Israeli government. “Mr. Allon told me the matter was not within his authority,” Avivi said, “and referred me to the Interior Minister. I shall certainly apply to him.”

On 15 July, Avivi “married” two young Tel Avivians at the village in a ceremony of his own making. Wearing a flower-bedecked black robe, President Avivi pronounced the 17-year-old bride and 18-year-old groom, who had met at Akhzivland the month before, “man and wife.” At the wedding party on the beach that evening, dozens of visitors danced naked around a bonfire. The wedding, however, had taken place without the knowledge of the couple’s parents and they applied to a Tel Aviv court to declare it null and void and forbid the publication of the couple’s names. According to Jewish law, though, the ceremony was legal because it had taken place in front of two witnesses and the groom’s pledge was worth more than the binding agora (.01 shekel, or .3¢). Avivi was still liable to legal action because he didn’t have approval from the rabbinate to conduct marriages, and he faced a possible two-year jail term. Such marriages “were only a publicity stunt and I’ve given them up,” Avivi contended later. “But if a couple comes along and love each other, I’m willing to give them my blessing, for what it’s worth, and my official stamp.” No action was taken at that time; however, on 18 August, Nahariya police arrested Avivi on charges of conducting marriages without authorization. After being questioned and fingerprinted, Avivi was released on a bond that was the equivalent of about $50.

After workers from the Sulam Tsur Regional Council and the National Parks Authority reportedly tried to erect fences around his little state, President Avivi went to the Magistrate’s Court in Acre to apply for a temporary restraining order. He said he would use his licensed submachine gun to repel any attempts to “trespass on his village.” On 4 August, the court prohibited the council from doing any work in Akhziv. A hearing was scheduled and on 8 August, Avivi, who had appeared in court without his hippie “nationals of the state,” asked the magistrate to make permanent the temporary order he’d granted earlier. The self-proclaimed president claimed that the council and the parks authority had started fencing off his state and constructing an alternate approach road which would “make it difficult for tourists to visit.” He also claimed that the regional council had established “secure and recognized boundaries” for this 2½-acre state a year earlier, including access to the sea, and they were now “trespassing” and interfering with his plans to reconstruct a 2,000-year-old Phoenician harbor on “his beach.” The Deputy Director of the National Parks Authority, for his part, told the court that Avivi’s rights in Akhziv should be determined “once and for all.” As far as the official knew, Avivi only had leases to two buildings, but no title to the surrounding land. The fences were meant to protect Akhziv and manage park access. The magistrate ruled on a compromise regarding the fencing off of the State of Akhzivland: the parks authority could run a fence around most of the village area, including the approach to the sea, but the court delayed a ruling on fencing along the southern part of the village which contains a copse, in which Avivi had built Akhziv’s “House of Parliament,” and the approach road to the village. The compromise came after the magistrate visited Akhzivland and President Avivi took this as “de facto recognition of my country.”

On 16 March 1972, the President of Akhzivland, wearing faded jeans, long hair, and a Fu-Manchu mustache, appeared in the Magistrate’s Court in Nahariya to demand “secure and recognized borders” for his mini-state. In his continuing dispute with “the neighboring country,” he once again sued the National Parks Authority and the Sulam Tsur Regional Council for the removal of the fence which blocked access to the sea. The counsel for the respondents asserted that since Akhziv was a national park area, Avivi’s land had to be fenced off. He was the expansionist, the officials argued. To show the magistrate why they found it necessary to fence Akhzivland in, the regional council submitted a brochure of photos taken in Akhziv. Entitled “Erotica,” it depicted nude girls, with captions extolling the micronation’s attractions, naming some famous visitors, and inviting others to come. (One wag once described nude photography as the national pastime of Akhzivland. Avivi’s museum displays some of this indigenous . . . er art.) After the hearing, President Avivi said he would initiate “a diplomatic campaign” to attract international attention to the “war of attrition” which “the neighboring country” was waging against him.

In April, Avivi appealed to U.S. President Richard Nixon and other world leaders to put pressure on Israel “to desist from its aggressive policy against his principality.” The State of Akhziv "is the tiniest country in the world," Avivi once observed. "But I will not hesitate to defend my home by any means, including arms." The self-appointed Akhziv president sent Nixon telegrams and appealed to him on a CBS TV program. Avivi explained that he took this step because his telegrams to the Israeli government had gone unanswered. Prime Minister Meir, Deputy P.M. Allon, and Defense Minister Moshe Dayan didn’t respond at all; Shimon Peres, the Communications Minister, informed Avivi that the issue wasn’t one which concerned his Ministry, but was a matter of diplomacy. Foreign Minister Abba Eban, for his part, asked Avivi not to involve foreign governments in his dispute because everything could be negotiated directly and without prior conditions.

Avivi’s first festival at Akhziv descended into chaos. On Friday evening, 16 July, about 5,000 people came to participate in the festival, overflowing the parking area and crowding both sides of the Nahariya-Rosh Hanikra road. Many had understood that admission to the festival was free, but when they were asked to pay the equivalent of $1, they tried to crash through the fence around Avivi’s residence. Avivi said that those who’d broken in outnumbered those who’d paid the entrance fee. The traffic tie-up and confusion at the sole entry gate even made it difficult for the festival artists to get through.

Earlier on the day of the festival, the Acre Magistrate’s Court had dismissed two of three charges the Sulam Tsur Regional Council had brought against Avivi: preparing, holding, and selling tickets for a public entertainment event without a permit. The judge dismissed the first two charges since the festival hadn’t taken place yet, emphasizing that the dismissal shouldn’t be seen as permission to hold the festival, but he barred Avivi from selling tickets because he didn’t have a permit. On a request from the Haifa District Attorney’s office, the Magistrate’s Court in Nahariya issued an interim ruling on 4 August forbidding Avivi from holding entertainment performances and selling refreshments in Akhziv. The District Health Officer in Acre had testified that conditions in Akhziv were inadequate for public gatherings.

On 15 November, the regional council issued the Israel Lands Administration an order to demolish Avivi’s house, which the council’s engineer found unfit for habitation. The council also ordered three other Akhziv buildings torn down—one that was in danger of collapse, and two shacks Avivi was alleged to have built without a permit on what was once a Muslim cemetery. The next day, Avivi, now calling himself the King of Akhziv, petitioned the court in Acre for a temporary injunction and the magistrate delayed the demolitions.

Around 5 April 1973, however, bulldozers demolished two buildings in Akhzivland. Under court orders, local authorities also shrank the already-tiny state by moving a fence deeper into Avivi’s territory. Then on 16 April, a fire, started as gasoline was being poured into a generator’s fuel tanks, caused $2,000 in damage to the generator and two shacks.

King Eli had spent the years since the 1959 announcement of the establishment of Akhziv National Park, which included much of the land formerly in his domain, fighting it with a series of court injunctions. Following months of litigation between the authorities and the King of Akhziv, hundreds of West Galileans attended the opening ceremony for the national park on the evening of Friday, 1 June 1973, and on Sunday, 7 July 1974, the National Parks Authority opened the new Akhziv National Park to the public for the first time. King Eli now found his pocket kingdom encircled by public parkland. The park, including the picturesque ruins of ancient Akhziv, extends from the Acre-Rosh Hanikra highway down to the beach and contains a lagoon which protects swimmers from the treacherous currents along the shore. In contrast to Akhzivland’s more rudimentary facilities, the park also offered lifeguards, a snack bar and picnic grounds, toilets, showers, and changing rooms, among other amenities that have been added since, such as a restaurant, children’s seawater pool, and playground. Unlike Akhzivland’s free admission, the park charged an entrance fee (now about $9). King Eli protested that the parks authority had reduced much of the picturesque ancient spot to an “asphalt and concrete” strip, admitting, though, that “Achziv is still beautiful—in parts.”

In wintertime, the balding, semi-hermitic King of Akhziv supported himself and Rina by fishing but the rest of the year, they depended on tourists. In 1976, however, like other vacation and holiday spots near the Lebanese border, Akhzivland had a bad season. In April 1975, Lebanon broke down into civil war and by mid-1976, Syria had sent troops to occupy the country. After several years of relative calm along Israel’s northern border, only about 10 minutes from Akhziv, the region again became a dangerous place to be. In August of that year, King Eli planned a grand 25th-anniversary celebration for the Independent State of Akhziv which he hoped would be a popular mass demonstration against the Israeli government. Avivi asserted he was still paying the government rent of thousands of pounds (the Israeli Pound was worth about 10¢ in the ‘70s), his only business with Israeli authorities since no other agency recognized him or his micronation. (Along the highway, for instance, directional signs in English, Hebrew, and Arabic point to “Eli Avivi,” not Akhzivland because that might signal tacit recognition.) Indeed, the government continued to try to evict him, raze the buildings, and absorb Akhzivland into the national park. “But they may as well go chase the rainbow,” snapped Avivi.

The authorities have always disliked me and have been trying to dislodge me ever since I started. My personal opinion is that the kibbutzim of the neighborhood have an eye on my land. They harass me all the time. My biggest enemy is the Sulam Tsur District Council, thanks to which I’ve spent all my money in court fees and fines defending myself. That money should have gone into improving Akhzivland; it was enough to really smarten this place up.

Even as Aviv spoke, the regional council chairman announced that he was calling the police once more because somebody had rolled back the green mesh fence that separated Akhzivland from the national park, making it possible to reach the park’s beach without paying the entrance fee, of which the council gets a percentage. “It’s your fence, not mine, and I don’t intend to guard it for you,” responded King Eli calmly. Avivi repeated his point to a friendly policeman, adding with a smile, “We’re on good terms really. He’s only doing his job, and he must be as fed up as I am with the Council’s bothering them about me almost daily.” The officer just shrugged his shoulders with resignation and offered, “Eli, I’m only a small cop. I can’t help you on legalities; that’s for lawyers.”

When asked to state the council’s case, the chairman waved away the question dismissively: “I’m too busy now to talk.”

Ever since he declared Akhzivland an independent state, King Eli provided “official” entry stamps in their passports to any visitors who wanted one. He limited his conflict with Israel’s officialdom to these kinds of “diplomatic actions.” He now decided that diplomacy wasn’t enough any more. “The way they’ve treated me is a casus belli by any standards, ” he warned, “and I’m going to take action against the District Council.” For the 25th anniversary, consequently, he invited “fair-minded Israelis” to demonstrate their support; he hoped that 10,000 revelers would respond. “We’ll clog the highway, stopping traffic with bands and singing,” boasted the hippie king. “A flower war, but a war.”

In the meantime, King Eli appealed to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, “so as to give the Government a last chance.” Avivi cautioned, “I have enough difficulty on the border making ends meet, and if Israel values my recognition and friendship, they’d better stop making trouble for me.” Later in August, the King of Akhziv advised Israelis considering “traveling abroad” to his kingdom for Rosh Hashana—Sunday, 25 September in 1976, but which Avivi was going to celebrate on Monday, 13 September, for the 25th anniversary blow-out—that entry would be granted only to holders of Akhziv passports. King Eli announced that Akhziv travel documents could be obtained at Passport Control on the Royal Highway into the kingdom—and at theater-ticket brokers in major Israeli cities.

Almost two years later, on 14 March 1978, the Israel Defense Forces launched Operation Litani against Fatah bases across the Lebanese border in response to PLO rocket attacks and raids on Israel. (On 11 March, Fatah fighters had hijacked a bus after making a sea landing in Haifa, killing everyone on board and an American tourist on the beach.) A few hours before the IDF action, the gray-bearded Avivi, who apparently had now returned to calling himself president, was alone in Akhzivland with his cats. “The terror must be wiped out completely,” he declared, recalling the 1971 Fatah landing at Akhziv. Though a pacifist, President Avivi announced he’d “opened my airspace for Israeli planes to overfly Akhzivland on their way to Fatahland.” There wasn’t anything between his state and southern Lebanon except Israel, after all, and “I surely need an ally.”

A little over a year after the IDF action against southern Lebanon, on 18 June 1979, Avivi held another press conference in Haifa. The bearded, long-haired President of Akhziv acknowledged that the Sulam Tsur Regional Council and the National Parks Authority had finally tied his hands. The council had convinced the court to prohibit Avivi from conducting any business in his micronation after the Akhzivland Independence Day festival President Avivi held in 1976. “I can no longer hold any festivals at Achziv, under threat of three months in Jail,” he announced. “I am not allowed to operate my dormitory or camping ground, or even sell cold drinks to visitors,” he lamented. “Only my museum is still open, more or less legally.”

In addition, Avivi was now completely fenced in, prevented from reaching the sea or the coastal highway, and most of his wide-open State of Akhziv that drew young people had been absorbed into Akhziv National Park. While still living in his village to show the flag, President Avivi was now ranging as far as Acre, nine miles south. (It’s ironic that in Acre live some of the former Arab residents of Akhziv, which they still call al-Zib, and their descendants.) He and his partner from Jerusalem invested $100,000 to open a cafĂ©-cum-art gallery and an antique furniture shop in two rented storefronts on Fisherman’s Square, near Khan el-Umdan (Inn of the Columns, built in 1784 as a caravan market), a major tourist stop. President Avivi promised to put any time left from fighting the regional council into building up the medieval city of Acre, with which he’d “fallen in love,” into a tourist mecca (as if it weren’t already).

The legal status of Akhzivland is still ambiguous, but tourists can still visit and stay. (A few of the famous, such as Sophia Loren and Paul Newman, have paid calls on Avivi.) President Avivi, now about 80 and slowing, still rules—58 years after he happened on the site. His micronation was the subject of a 2009 documentary, Achziv, A Place for Love (in Hebrew with English subtitles), by Etty Wieseltier. The Israeli government still doesn’t recognize the state, but it leaves Avivi alone now; there are even those road signs pointing to his pocket nation, even if they won’t name it. Like the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, Akhzivland is a mouse that roared. (There are, as there often have been, rumors that Avivi may give up his realm if the Israeli authorities will promise to protect Akhziv from absorption into the national park.) Many guidebooks include the hostel as a viable alternative to the national park’s campgrounds or nearby hotels. A few amenities, such as cabins for overnight stays (built by Avivi and some of his guests, and for which there is a charge) and a swimming pool, have been added in competition with the park, but for the most part it’s still the scruffier, less refined accommodation it started out to be—if a little less free-wheeling than 50 years ago. There are still impromptu outdoor rock parties—to the displeasure of the neighboring local authorities. It’s still popular with Israelis who, even as they remain fiercely loyal to their country, are fond of questioning authority and even thumbing their noses at the powers-that-be, so if you’re similarly inclined and want to lay down a bit of harmless anti-establishmentarianism, pay a visit to the Independent State of Akhziv. No visa is necessary, but bring your passport—President Avivi will stamp it for you.

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