Maronites, Circassians and Druze- a trip to the Western Galilee

Looking over into Lebanon

You will find this entry rather different from our previous trips. The first thing will be a lack of decent photos and the reason for this is that this was an organized trip, but more of that later. (Heck I didn’t even get to photograph a Druze in traditional gear! )We booked a one night package through the Israel Youth Hostels Association marketed as a “Hamshush”, Israeli slang for a weekend break beginning on a Thursday. The deal was for 540 shekels per couple, which included overnight at the Youth Hostel in the Druze village of Pke’in, breakfast and two tours, one on Thursday night and one on Friday morning. Usually I avoid organized tours, which I feel are rushed and don’t allow one to peacefully contemplate the scenery. This tour, despite being quite pleasant, confirmed my opinion, and that is why there is a paucity of photographs. The guides were extremely knowledgeable, and had a wealth of information to impart, but the group was large and we rushed from place to place. It just meant that I could mark these places on my Google Map and return at leisure on a later date.

We stopped off at our favourite beach (Lavnun) at the Kinneret on the way up to Pke’in, and were thrilled to find it relatively empty and not too hot, considering we are in the midst of the summer holidays. After a pleasant time there we continued on to the Youth Hostel and checked in extremely quickly .The room was not at all what I remembered about youth hostels, despite no double bed, it was spacious,ensuite , and had a tv, aircon, wifi, tea and coffee with a kettle and a fridge. This is more than we have received in many overpriced hotels around the country. There was even a view from the window.

Lavnun beach, Kinneret

We drove into Pke’in village to grab something to eat before the evening walking tour. I had picked a random restaurant called The Village Restaurant, but after finding the main square and parking, a friendly guy approached us and guided us to his restaurant, The Mulberry Tree, which he said had “the most likes on Facebook”. A couple already sitting at a table assured us that the food was excellent so we sat down. We were offered an oral menu only which consisted of all the traditional Druze and local Arab dishes, Hummus, Labane, stuffed vegetables and so on. We chose two Druze pita and Labane and a plate of stuffed vine leaves. These were accompanied by some home made pickles and then a large plate of bulgur wheat . Everything was delicious. We then returned to the Youth Hostel.

After a quick cup of tea and rest in the room we went to the lobby for the evening tour. We met up with the two guides who divided us up into two groups. This then got complicated as we were offered a choice of walking or driving into the village to a viewpoint and a short introduction to the village. After a vote, most opted to drive, and went with the other guide, and our guide led about 20 people on the walk, stopping here and there to explain things about the Druze community and beliefs. Both guides were Druze, and it was interesting to hear about religion and customs, regarding marriage, burial and changing attitudes to the independence of women. We saw the main square and the spring, and the Synagogue, and learnt about the coexistence of Druze, Christians and Jews in the village.

Synagogue in Pke’in

Unfortunately since it was already dark I didn’t get a chance to photograph the many gorgeous houses around the village, but we will undoubtedly visit again another time. Along with another couple , we got slightly lost on the way back to the hostel, the guide strode ahead at a pace and was not really concerned if he lost a few people on the way. (this was one of our main gripes with this tour, that not enough time was spent at any place, and we felt continually hurried).

Next morning we had a magnificent breakfast at the hostel before meeting a new guide , Rassan, also Druze,( from the village of Hurfeish), and setting off to see Mount Adir, up on the Lebanese border, Gush Halav (Jish), a Maronite Christian village, and finally Rehaniya, a Circassian village. This was all by car, and we drove in long convoy, meeting up with the others at the entrance to each site.

Hazy look at Lebanon from Har Adir

After a short walk we reached the lookout point on the mountain which was unfortunately not clear due to heat haze. The surrounding views on the way up were however spectacular. This part of the Western Galilee is really beautiful and warrants a longer visit. There are many places to stay in the villages and kibbutzim around. We only spent a few minutes in Gush Halav and frankly I did not learn anything there. It was all too rushed. We got a potted history of Christianity in 2 minutes and a glimpse of the Church which was closed. The writing over the door is both in Arabic and in Aramaic, and apparently many of the Christian Maronites are claiming to be descendents of the people of Arameans , and trying to revive that tradition, including the language. They, like the Druze, serve in the army and are loyal to the State of Israel.

The final port of call, Rehaniya is home to a small community of Circassians. We were given a time of arrival to meet at the entrance to the village, but after stopping off to buy a sambusak and use the “faciilities” at the charming Nalchik restaurant ( at the recommendation of the guide), we returned to the village entrance and could not find anyone there (we were 5 minutes late, after waiting for the sambusak to be ready). Since it was about 30 C we decided not to schlepp around looking for them, but to head for the beach in Nahariya. So we drove to Galei Galil beach, Nahariya where we relaxed for a while before heading home.But first I have to mention the amazing Nalchik restaurant, which houses a small exhibition of Circassian folklore, complete with costumes, and many photos, and shows a loop of Circassian folk dancing on the tv. In the room there were rows of plastic chairs, where I believe talks about the sect are given. The charming Daniel who served us said that his uncle does guided tours and lectures on the Circassian people ,and gave us his card. We may take him up on this at a later date.

So there you have it. A village where Jews, Christians and Druze live together in harmony. What more could one wish for on this day when suddenly rockets are again whooshing over both sides of the border down south? How sad that we are so far away from achieving this peace in the rest of our area.

Stay tuned for next installment….

7 thoughts on “Maronites, Circassians and Druze- a trip to the Western Galilee

      1. Margalit Zinati was one of the 2018 Yom Ha’atzmaut torch lighters. Websearching leads to numerous articles about her.

  1. This sounds a fascinating area to visit and learn about, but ideally in not so large a group! We find small group tours manageable occasionally, but even then we sometimes feel a bit rushed. But at least this introduced you to the place and as you say you can go back and explore some more in the future 🙂

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