As I always say, Israel is the most random country. There are adventures and interesting spots in the most unsuspecting of places. It’s another reason we enjoy living here: we never know what we’ll find next. I had heard rumors of Achzivland when I was in high school from friends’ older siblings who’d returned from Israel. Then the stories popped up again when we were volunteering with the army. There were tales of rock concerts, hippies, free love on the beach, artists, celebs and draft-dodging wanderers in the 1960s-1970s.
Achzivland is actually its own independent country, the smallest in the world, on the shores of the Mediterranean just 3 miles south of the Lebanese border. The story begins with Persian-born Eli Avivi who immigrated with his family to Israel when he was a baby during the Palestinian Mandate, a time when the British ruled the nascent Jewish state. Always in love with the sea, Eli, who was in his early 20s, was a smuggler. He was involved with the underground navy, pre-IDF: really just a few old fishing boats, a couple freight barges and a decommissioned cruise ship. The British had imposed strict quotas on the number of immigrants after World War II and the numbers were quite low, so Eli would take a small fishing trawler from British Palestine to Cyprus and other European locations to pick up Jewish refugees from the Holocaust and smuggle them at night across the Mediterranean back to their ancestral homeland. After the British withdrew in 1948 and the newly approved (by UN majority vote) nation of Israel fought off the invasion of Arab nations in the War of Independence, Eli Avivi left Israel for colder climates. He worked on fishing boats in the North Sea, in Iceland and Norway for two years. Then he sailed to Africa. But Israel was always calling him back.
Eli returned to Israel in 1952, settling down at an old abandoned Arab fishing village on the Mediterranean Sea once known as Al-Zeb. The few stone buildings were run down, but there was a certain charm to the compound. To Eli, it was Paradise. Beautifully frescoed plaster walls and magnificent mosaic and tiled floors in each room added to the mystique. Rumor had it that the large house was owned by a wealthy Bedouin sheik and his many wives and concubines. The fishing was excellent, there was a natural-spring well, and it was close to Akko. It was quiet and remote, perfect for a solitary life. The beach-combing and scuba diving were favorite pass-times as well as scouting out the surrounding unplowed fields. Eli picked up all sorts of artifacts and antiquities, his massive collection constantly growing to include pottery, sculptures, ancient Iron Age tools and farm implements, Ottoman and Crusader weapons, glass and coins. Avivi studied the history of his ’new’ home and discovered it went back to Biblical times. It was home to the tribe of Asher and was also inhabited by the ancient Phoenicians who used to trade nearby. What more could a handsome young man want in this Garden of Eden? He was soon joined by the beautiful fashion model, Rina, who became his wife.
Technically, Eli and Rina were squatters on this 3 1/2 acre piece of prime real estate. The Israeli government repeatedly tried to take the property back, even showing up with bulldozers. After nearly two decades of battles and their refusing to leave, Eli and Rina ripped up their Israeli passports and declared their independence. They held a large press conference and became overnight celebrities in Israel. ”I fought for this country. I loved Israel. But I have no time for the government. I just want to be allowed to live on my own little piece of land, in my own place, in my own way,” he said in a television interview. As an act of protest, Avivi created the State of Achzivland in 1971 with himself as its President for Life. He established a bicameral House of Parliament consisting of Eli and Rina. The new micronation had its own flag, with a mermaid and his house as an emblem. He wrote up a constitution (“The President is democratically elected by his own vote.”), a national anthem and passports.
For all of this Eli Aviv was arrested by the Israeli police and border patrol. He was thrown into jail, but released ten days later when the judge ruled the charge ”Creation of an Independent Country Without Permission” did not exist. Still, he was hounded by the government until he brought a countersuit. The high court ruled he could have a 99-year lease.
Eli and Rina were no pushovers. A group of six Arab PLO assassins tried to infiltrate Israel from nearby Lebanon to commit acts of terrorism in the winter of 1971. The Palestinian terrorists landed their raft on the beach of Achziv on a foggy March morning. The Avivis had seen them approach from their living room window. One wetsuit-clad terrorist met up with a fully-armed Rina as he snuck into the house. Not expecting a loaded rifle and Karl Gustav pointed at his head, he dropped his gun and a bag of grenades and pita breads. Two were wrestled on the beach by Eli and disarmed. The Avivis tied up their captives and fixed a pot of hot tea as they waited for the authorities. The paratroopers, police, Golani brigade – the whole army showed up. The other infiltrators escaped inland and were later caught by the IDF. At this point, the Avivis were national folk heroes.
In the early 1970s, just as today, the world was in upheaval. It was a time of great unrest. The war in Vietnam was raging. The hippie movement was growing. Students were protesting in Europe. The Mideast was in constant turmoil. And the beach at Achzivland was just gaining notoriety. Jewish kids, whose parents sent them after high school to work on a kibbutz would end up there. European hikers and university students found out about this great, laid-back camping area and hostel right on the beach where the only rule was non-violence. They would help out around the property in return for a place to stay and a meal. Nude bathing? No problem. Free love? It was not unheard of. Drugs? While not encouraged, it was not discouraged either. The water was pumped from the well. The bathrooms were rudimentary latrines. The house had no electricity. The young people helped Eli as he constructed his makeshift second story to the house. They helped build additional guesthouses. It was a work in progress. At the time, it was an out of the way local, yet through word of mouth, Achziv attracted artists and bohemians, poets and musicians.
Israeli musicians and rock bands played free, all-night summer concerts on the beach. Soon artists and celebs from around the world were guests there. Young couples came asking Eli to perform marriage ceremonies for them on the beach. He happily complied. In the summer of 1972, the Avivis planned a large Woodstock type music festival. Young people came from Israel, Europe, America, Canada and Australia. From that summer on people from the likes of Bridget Bardot to David Bowie, Leonard Cohen and Bar Rafaeli would drop in. The main house grew in size but not to any code. More bungalows were erected. Electricity and plumbing were eventually installed.
We first visited Achzivland almost three years ago to the day. It was exactly one year to the day that Eli Avivi passed away. Rina was there with several of their old friends remembering times past. Long gone ere the concerts and parties. The main house, now a museum open to the public, was in terrible disrepair. Still, it was not hard to envision groups of revelrers dancing around a fire or hanging around the salon. A few people come by to swim at the beach. But the sun-worshipping youth have now been replaced by large Arab men, their fully-covered wives sitting on the sand. We went again last year and met Ofer, helping out around the property before his army service. His parents were regulars at the beach compound years ago. He remembered the tail end of Achzivland’s glorious past.
Our good friend, Norman (now of blessed memory) had also told us of the place in its heyday. He had come to Israel the summer of 1974 to work on a nearby kibbutz. After his stint there had ended, he met a gorgeous blonde from Sweden. It was an August romance, the tale of the girl that got away. The guests and rock stars that were there. Swimming in the Mediterranean on a moonlit night. Barbecues on the beach. His ”Lagatha” returned to Sweden, he stayed in Israel… and so it goes.
We return infrequently to that idyllic beach. The large lot next door is now a national park/ lifeguarded beach where families come to picnic and swim. The strains of music have been replaced by the sounds of children. It’s a completely different vibe. At Achziv, Rina still rents out cabins called tzimmers, mostly to the locals. They are quite rudimentary, but fitting for the beach. Old timers occasionally spend a summer weekend there, chatting with Rina and recounting tales of the past. If you visit, make sure to bring your passport and have it stamped with the seal of this interesting micronation.