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Travel: Western Upper Galilee -In the Footsteps of the Crusaders

Date: Nov. 13th/ 2020

Place :Western Upper Galilee -In the Footsteps of the Crusaders

By: Lili Naveh


The irritating pulsing of the alarm clock at 5:00 am before sunrise, made me jump out of bed disoriented. The only reason for this unusually early rise was the necessity to arrive at the Western upper Galilee in the North of the country.

The plan was to catch up on the brief historical presence of the Crusaders, whose kingdom in the Holy Land, in the 12th C became obsolete, after only less than 200 years.

Sephi Ben Yosef - bunched up the early risers who like us, arrived from all over the country, into a 10 car caravan, each in their own car, ready to depart, as planned , right on schedule,at 7:30am punkt!

A seasoned, most informed adventurous tour guide, Sefi, whom we started touring with during this prolonged stay in Israel, promised those joining, a tour of less known but as exciting remaining Northern Galilee sites, which once upon a time were glorious industrious Crusaders hubs.

Driving through the enchanting upper mountainous green Galilee with its agricultural pastoral open landscapes, low stone house clusters rolling off the cliffs, and religiously diverse communities, felt like touring another country abroad, in comparison to the flat, secular beach town of Tel -Aviv peppered densely with high Towers, where we arrived from.


The first Northern Galilee outdoors site toured on this perfect sunny warm day


Hurvat Manot - Ruins


Manaot is a small moshav (near Shlomi) of about 500 inhabitants, which was founded in 1980, in Northern Israel, along with other ~ 46 small Jewish "lookout" communities of the upper western Galilee , near the Lebanese border.

It was named after the ruins of a settlement and Fort on the west end of the Cziv creek also called Manot, located at the right turn into 8911 road, off route 70 ( Cabri-Shlomi road)

The Ruin of Hurvat Manot is a spread of a Roman/Byzantine and Crusaders period village, on two areas. On the western hillside: an upper side, where the Crusaders fortified farm complex used to be, and on the lower side where the stone manufacture/processing of cane sugar factory was located.


Sugar Processing Stines

During more than 150 years of the Crusaders kingdom in the Holy Land, the Crusaders established one of their important fortified farms Manueth here. The lands of the farm were leased in 1169 and the houses were built on the higher foothills.

The Crusaders' Forts were the economic administrative and military stations that incorporated the productions of the agricultural villages in the surroundings.

In the nearby valley of Cziv the farmers grew sugar canes, as the creek provided plenty of water and an aqueduct carried it to the Fort.


The sugar production was one of the Crusaders' most profitable industries. Fields of sugar cane, farms and factory stations were not only in the Galilee, but also in the Sharon, or Jordan valley by Jericho, where the heat, and wet marshes facilitated the growth of cane sugar and its processing had kept filling the coffers of the Crusaders administration. The sugar which reached Europe from the land was very profitable for the Crusaders and supported their sustainability for the period.


Manueth’s military purpose was the protection of the entrance to the creek, where a road led to the Montfort castle and farm. The farm was part of the Crusaders alerting network: it kept a visible communication line with other posts – using fire signals at night and smoke signals at bright days, alerting each other on approaching enemies. On the east side it communicated with Montfort (7KM), via relay stations along the creek (such as Avdon). On the west side it had a direct visible line to the coastal Castle Imbert (Achziv, 5KM).

In 1187 the farm was taken for a short time by Saladin’s forces, but returned back to the Crusaders shortly after. In 1212 the farm was sold by its owner to the Templars order, who held it until 1260.

The Mamlukes, under Baybars, captured the village in 1260 and held a headquarter in the farm. It was later given to the order of Hospitalars, who leased it to the knights of Montfort. The sugar factory continued to function several centuries later, being a lucrative source of income but then deserted and only its ruins hint of a long gone productive era.

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Further driving west on 8911 narrow road through agricultural land directed us toward Mitzpe Hila an Israeli small community


Originally named Mitzpe Ziv after Har Ziv, the mountain on which this community of ~ 600 near the Lebanese border, was established, also in 1980, as part of the "Lookouts in the Galilee" plan.

Along the beautiful terrain, one encounters pirating land plots, in which Olive tree groves, Orchards or grazing Herd are being fenced in.


Fenced illegal land grab

This illegal land grab reflects the reality of the Galilee's sad fate whereas only 27% of the communities' inhabitants (including in the cities Aco, Nahariya, Tzfat and Carmiel) are Jewish, while the rest 73% of the population are Arabs -

Christians, Muslims and Druzes by religion.


Infect throughout most of its history, with the exception of during the Second Temple, the Galilee wasn't the land of the Jews.

The Hachsminaites conquest brought in more Jewish settlements and 1/3 of the communities in the year of 128 were jewdized and hosted mixed populations


By the 9th c in the Sadia Gaon era, a clear distinction between a Jew and a Christian, which didn't exist distinctively until then, was established.

Jews settled in Lower East Galilee East and Christians on west upper Galilee.


Mongols and Turks conquests had emptied out the Galilee's communities. Especially the Jewish settlements were liquidated.

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Daher al Omar, an autonomous Arab Bedouin who was a ruler of northern Palestine in the mid-18th c, while the area was still nominally part of the Ottoman Empire, brought Jews to Tiberias and other parts of the North, to fortify the ruined Forts, reconstruct synagogues, and construct commercial buildings, as well as to reignite the region's industrial economy.


His tolerance of religious minorities encouraged Christian and Jewish immigration to his domain. The influx of immigrants from other parts of the empire stimulated the local economy and led to the significant growth of the communities in Acre and Nazareth and in Tiberias.

As of the 1730s, his domain mainly consisted of Galilee, with successive headquarters in Tiberias, Arraba, Nazareth, Deir Hanna and finally fortified Acre.

which from 1746 became a center of the cotton trade between Palestine and Europe. The wealth he accumulated through monopolizing cotton and olive oil trade to Europe financed his sheikhdom.

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The current 46 Jewish Mitzpim (Lookout) communities part of Israel's Jewdizing the Galilee plan of the1980, and which are supposed to oversee that the national land isn't stolen by the majority Arab population, are failing at that impossible task.

Most of these Israeli communities are agricultural or Industrial villages and as employment opportunities are limited in this region, almost all are in service of popular vacation retreats (B&B) for Israeli internal tourism

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"Mi'liya" an Arab Christian Village


The village of ~ 3300 inhabitants, all of whom are Melkite Greek Catholics is located south of Mitzpe Hila, immediately to the northwest of Ma'alot-Tarshiha

Archaeological excavations in Mi'ilya reveal inhabitation from the Late Bronze Age and Iron Age, as well as Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Crusader, Mamluk and Ottoman periods.


Its name during the "Kingdom of Jerusalem era" in Galilee was Castellum Regis. The Crusader state which was established in the Southern Levant by Godfrey of Bouillon in 1099 after the First Crusade lasted from 1099 until 1291 when it was destroyed by the Mamluks.


The Fort was located on the way between Aco and Damask. Kings castle was first noted in Crusader sources in 1160, when it was probably built during King Baldwin III's reign, along with one of the biggest wineries in the Crusader states. Remains of Wine making equipment can still be seen in the village.


By 1179 the castle had apparently been rebuilt, as it was then called Castellum Novo.In 1182, Baldwin IV granted the castle to his uncle, Jocelyn III. At this time it was called "The new castle in the mountains of Acre".


By 1187, the castle fell to Saladin, but was soon back in Crusader control. In 1220, ownership passed to the Teutonic Knights. However, the importance of the castle of Mi'ilya was by this time superseded by the Montfort Castle.


By 1291 Nobility inter-fighting and disputes brought the demise of the kingdom which lost to the Mongols and Mamluks Muslims.

The deserted Forts and other assets were taken over by the local villagers, by

Christians who immigrated from Lebanon and Muslim who moved to Tarshicha

in 18 c with Dahr al Omar efforts to rejuvenate the region.


In the early part of 1948 the village suffered from food shortages and harassment from neighbouring Jewish areas. It was captured by the IDF during Operation Hiram at the end of October. After a short fight, most of the population fled into the countryside. The following day the local IDF commander allowed them to return to their homes. This was one of the few occasions when villagers were allowed back into their villages after they had left.


The village's local "Church of St Mary Magdalen" and "Château du Roi" are the most impressive structures in this charming mountain village.


Father Shakur Nadine, originally from Biram, and educated in a Haifa school who now serves at the Greek Catholic Church, was kind to address the group. He proudly informs that the village is among the very highly educated in the country, and supplies many of the MD doctors who are being educated in Jordan or Jenine to the nearby hospitals and clinics in Israel.


Apparently the village is a favorite tourist destination for the surrounding communities and Christens worship, not only for its church but for its boutique hotel and gourmet restaurant


"Château du Roi" - Mi'iiya Village - A Boutique hotel and Restaurant

04 8850088

Château du Roi is a restored historical building, attached to a 12th-century Crusader castle which was built by King Baldwin III to serve as a fort with a strategic view of Mount Meron.

The building, which was restored for almost two decades by Labib and Salma Assaf, was once used for domestic functions. One room however, served as the “Mukhtar`s” office. Today the building consists of several inner-spaces and courtyards located near the church, in the ancient part of the village, viewing the mountain slopes of the Galilee.

It includes Italian Restaurant, Bar, Cellar and Boutique Rooms,


Entrance to the Hotel's Restaurant

Nebi Sabalan - Druze Village Shrine


Nebi Sabalan is an impressive burial stone shrine site in the village of Sabalan, located above Vadi Cziv. The al-Mazar (a pilgrimage site), named after the tomb of the holy man, Nebi Sabalan, is the second most holy site of the Druze in Israel.

Some believe Sabalan is supposed to be Zebulun, the son of Jacob, while others claim he was a da'is ("missionary") who joined the Druze religion and helped promote it in the region.

Archaeological artifacts and rock-cut tombs are located near the tomb.


The village of ~ 100 Moslems is situated on top of a high hill, 814 m above sea level overlooking the Druze village of Hurfeish. It is surrounded with figs, olives, and agricultural land.

A view on Hurfeish

The lands of Sabalan village, including the holy shrine, were annexed to the Druze town of Hurfeish. A neighborhood for released soldiers was built there.

Nebi Sabalan Shrine

The Druze community in Israel has a special standing among the country's minority groups and is officially recognized as a separate religious entity with its own courts (with jurisdiction in matters of personal status - marriage, divorce, maintenance and adoption) and spiritual leadership.


Their culture is Arab and their language Arabic but they opted against mainstream Arab nationalism in 1948 and have since served (first as volunteers, later within the draft system) in the Israel Defense Forces and the Border Police. Members of the community have attained high-level positions in the political, public and military spheres.


Worldwide there are probably about one million Druze living mainly in Syria and Lebanon, with 104,000 in Israel, including about 18,000 in the Golan (which came under Israeli rule in 1967) and several thousands who emigrated to Europe and North and South America.


Respect at the holy Nebi Sabalan site required David to cover his naked legs dressed in shorts

Cerem ben Zimra - and the Converted Jews of San Nicandro


Nearby Dalton reservoir and across from where Dalton Winery is located, off route 866, the viewpoint we stopped at revealed enchanting scenery of mountain Har Yochanan and Gush Chalav (Giiesh), on one side, and the vines of Cerem ben Zimra on the other.

This moshav was founded in 1949 by immigrants to Israel from Turkey on the site of the depopulated Palestinian village of al-Ras al-Ahma

New immigrants from Romania and Lybia later joined the area, as well

as the converted Jews of San Nicandro.


The converted Jews of San Nicandro Italy and thier ‘prophet’ Donato Manduzio who fell in love with Judaism and gathered a community of believers made aliyah to Israel

Beginning in the late 1920s, the San Nicandro community developed as a result of the conversion to Judaism of Donato Manduzio (1885-1948)[, a crippled World War I veteran, a son to poor Roman Catholic peasants, who was inspired by his own reading of the Bible. He claimed to have had a vision, abandoned Christianity, and started to spread his message among the folk of San Nicandro,

He soon converted several dozen of his neighbors, founding a small Jewish Sabbatarian sect. By 1949, most of the San Nicandro Jews emigrated to Israel, where the majority of them settled in the agricultural Italian speaking communities made up of immigrants from Libya and in cities of Birya and Safed.


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Chelmoniot - Sternbergia Flowers in Biria Forest

This yellow egg yolk color bulbous short flowering plant in the family Amaryllidaceae can be seen in its brief autumn blossoming between Oct to Dec in the forest of Biria.


Biria is the largest planted forest in the Galilee, situated on the slopes descending east from Tzefad to Rosh Pina and Hatzor. A variety of fascinating sites - groves, springs, an ancient synagogue, a lime pit, revered tombs, diverse flora, hiking trails and scenic lookouts, can be found there.

The tour guide opted to rush us before sun down to enjoy the visible bright yellow blossom of this forest flower, and miss, what was originally planned, a visit to another ruined Crusader's Fort in the town of Safed.

And that was definitely a great finale to a glorious day of a highly recommended organized tour with a fantastic guide.


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