Doves in the Cracks (Rosh Hanikra)

Old and new weave together in Akko’s old city.

An adult driver, a teen cyclist and a child on horseback squeeze together  through a narrow cobblestone alley.

Construction workers with hard hats and electric tools restore a medieval Crusader fortress.

But Israeli Jews and Israeli Arabs don’t weave so easily here – at least not the women I see.

Yes, they share the shaded, winding lanes of the shuk (market). But rarely does a mixed group walk together.

Israeli soldiers pass, draped in uzis, off duty in jeans and black hoodies. Arab faces tighten behind unconvincing masks of indifference.

In an Arab shop, I buy some jewelry featuring doves riding Jewish stars. But I imagine the peace symbol is for idealistic tourists and my heart sinks.

In another shop I buy six scarves. Here, women wear them like flags. Tie your scarf around your head and you are observant Jew; pin it around your face and you are an observant Muslim.

If I were an Arab in Akko, surely I would feel tense around a soldier’s uzi. In the new city, street names document Zionist history: Weizmann, Herzl, Trumpeldor, Anilevitch. If people came to my country and made it monument to their victory, I would be pained.

Such pain is nothing new in the bloody history of Akko’s prized fortress. It passed from Phoenicians to Egyptians to Hellenists to Persians to Romans to Muslims to Crusaders to Ottomans to British to Israelis. But knowledge of this history doesn’t necessarily soothe.

We leave the dark shuk and drive to the brightness of Rosh Hanikra. Brilliant blue waters carve their initials into shining limestone. We have come to tour the grottos.

The parking lot sits at a Lebanon Border crossing, used only to exchange prisoners and corpses. The tourist area is bounded by a barbed wire fence and overseen by orange and white watchtowers with spinning radar disks.

Inside the grottos, a self-guided tour sign says in awkward English, “It began with a series of underground shocks. When stormy, a wave of compressed air enters every crack, fragmenting the rock.” In the dim light, where edges blur, the turbulent sea seems a perfect social metaphor. When political storms blow in, social fissures widen, fragmenting cities and countries.

Outside at the edge of the sea, rock doves nest in the limestone. In real life, rock doves don’t carry olive branches. But a single rock dove family can include black, white, grey and brown birds. No two individuals look alike, and the birds do not care.

Even out in the bright light, this seems a perfect social metaphor. May the peace of the rock dove come upon us.

Photos of Akko and Rosh Hanikra by Charles Kaplan
  1. For my wedding to a white, non-Jewish, South African man with both Dutch and Afrikaner ancestry, one of his relatives sent me a silk Shalom banner, and one of the silver doves “riding” inside the Star from Israel.

    Having been to Israel a year and a half ago, on Birthright, and now in reading this post, I’m wondering more at that symbol. It is almost as though the dove is constrained – is caged within the Star. Is there a limit on peace, a price on unity and freedom as long as Israel persists this way?

    – Miriam Doba

    1. Yes, interesting observation! I saw several different designs. Some had the dove carrying the star, and others had the dove bounded by the star.

  2. @Reb. Laura: For context, Graham is the Catholic friend I mentioned I’ve been talking to and has been helping me. @Graham: Remind me to show you my necklace next Sunday – if I can figure out where it went. I should show you my full collection of Stars.

  3. Yes, that’s me.

    And as a further caveat (um, קייוויאַט?), I have no formal semiotic training, and little heraldic, to speak of.

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