David Lawrence-Young – Peki’in, a Druze village in the Upper Galilee
For those who cannot afford to fly to Peking (now Beijing) or who don’t wish to risk the air pollution there, a cheaper solution is to go to Peki’in, a Druze village in the Upper Galilee. Here, among the wooded hills you will find a fascinating community – complete with clean air!
According to tradition, Jews have always lived there since the time of the Second Temple. The only time there was no Jewish presence was during the 1936-39 pre-State Arab riots. Today the only Jews who live there are from the Zinati family, and that means the ageing Margalit Zinati.
Earlier names for this village include Baka and Paca and it was under this last name that the village was mentioned in Josephus’ first century history book, The Jewish War. According to the Talmud, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (the author of the mystical Book of the Zohar) and his son, Rabbi Elazar ben Maimon, lived there during the Roman invasion of the Holy Land and they lived, hiding out in a local cave for thirteen years. Although the town was then known as Paca, and later Bokehel by the Crusaders, the first time it was referred to as Peki’in was in 1765, in a Hebrew travel book.
Under Sulemein the Magnificent (what a modest name!), Peki’in became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1517 and over seventy Jewish families were recorded as living there in the late 16th century. Apart from local agriculture, there was also a silk industry at the time. In 1875, a French explorer noted that six hundred people lived there, including Druzes, United and Schismatic Greeks and several Jewish families. The Survry of Western Palestine recorded that about 100 Christians, and an equal number of each of Moslems, Druzes and Jews also lived there, together with a chapel and a synagogue. Today, the population is about six thousand, most of whom are Druzes.
Walking around the village is great fun, but one must be prepared to walk up and down the hills in order to reach the synagogue and the village’s central square. This square, complete with cafés and restaurants specializing in local dishes, surrounds a spring which was one of the central reasons for the village being situated where it was. The ancient synagogue is a short walk from the square and a couple of young girls doing their National Service will guide you around this unfortunately underused building. When you stand inside, you will see an engraved Menorah and an ancient doorway decorating the walls. These decorations allegedly come from the old temple in Jerusalem.
Today the village supports itself with garages, the building trade, tourism, restaurants and the sale of local products such as cosmetics and soaps. The latter are based on local olive oil.
The villagers are very proud of Peki’in and are very friendly. On more than one occasion, a local car stopped to ask if we (my wife and I) were lost or if we needed any help. Despite these troubled times, we felt completely safe wandering around the narrow alleys at night, our only worry being was that perhaps we may get lost. And even when we did on one occasion, a local man popped up out of nowhere and guided us back to the very comfortable Peki’in guesthouse where we were spending those four days.
Finally, if you look at a map, you will see that Peki’n makes a great and central spot in order to travel around the Galilee. Ma’a lot is about five kilometers to the north, Carmiel a few more kilometers to the south and Safed is not too far to the east. All of these places can be reached by good roads without any problems.
Bon voyage and have a great time!