The Israel Diaries: Akko

James Billot
5 min readSep 7, 2019
An aerial view of the Old City of Akko

And so day 2 began in the same manner day 1 finished: fatigued excitement. Though my first night in the Middle East was uneventful, I found it difficult compartmentalizing the thought that I was sleeping on some of the most contested soil on the planet. To Israelis, the spectre of conflict was a normal part of their lives, but to a Brit accustomed to the relative ennui of Boris and Brexit, bombs and barbed walls gave me a keener sense of my own mortality.

This cheerful note also reminded me that this trip was not simply a holiday. It was an exploration; an exploration into Israel, its culture and identity as well as Judaism and my own relationship to it. All I knew from my own Jewish history was that my great grandfather was a communist, who was arrested and escaped to Siberia during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. To be both a Jew and a communist in Tsarist Russia was one of the more unfortunate predicaments in the Auerback (my father’s surname) history, but in typically Jewish fashion, he survived. From Siberia he emigrated to Canada, where he met and married my great-grandmother in Canada, who came from a wealthier family of Germanic ancestry. Some of their grandchildren, including my aunt and uncle, live there today.

This morning, however, my focus was more immediate. I only had a 10 day window to learn about a country 8,019 sq miles big and 9 million strong. In its 71-year history, Israel has never experienced peace on all its borders simultaneously (just this week, Israel carried out two strikes in Lebanon) and I was curious to know how this fed into the daily life of ordinary Israelis. While Israel’s fraught relations with neighbouring Arab nations and the Palestinian question may have danced on the lips of many a western political commentator, perhaps the concerns on the ground were more prosaic.

Map of Israel

At the port-city of Akko in northern Israel, this proved largely true. Following a rather desultory morning Jewish meditation at a Kibbutz (my loyalty lies with TM), we visited the city in the afternoon. Akko is distinguishable from other Israeli metropolises because it is mixed city, divided roughly 65:35 between Jews and Arabs. Like the rest of the country…