Akko, mixed Jewish-Arab city, is ‘unpolished diamond’

JNS (and other publications), April 20, 2016

Muhammad Abu Marwan takes me through the refined, artsy living room of “Arabesque: An Arts and Residency Center” in the Old City of Akko, Israel, with the noble air of an effendi, as if he were the proud owner.

Leading me into a beautifully tiled, luxurious guest room furnished with antiques, he explains how the room was once a stable for his son’s horses. It doesn’t seem much love was lost on the horses, which were sold not long after Arabesque’s owner, American-born novelist and artist Evan Fallenberg, purchased the neglected, centuries-old property with the aim of turning it into a retreat space for intellectual types.

“I consider him my partner even though he’s really a neighbor,” Fallenberg tells JNS.org over the phone, a few days after Arabesque’s April opening.

Abu Marwan is not an employee of Arabesque. His day job is as a custodian at a local school.

“We’re good neighbors together,” Abu Marwan says in Hebrew. “You wouldn’t believe how it was before. The minute [Fallenberg] bought it, he cleaned it up.”

Abu Marwan’s renovated kitchen—where he happily introduces me to his wife as well as his visiting daughters and grandchildren—overlooks the sparkling, peaceful courtyard. Over the years, Abu Marwan’s home had extended into the for-sale property.

“I decided the best way to become a new member of this neighborhood was to say, ‘I’m going to cede that land and I will be content with my share of the courtyard,’ and they were only too happy to have those rooms,” Fallenberg says.

Arabesque is just one example of the kind of transformation taking place in what were once neglected properties in the historic Old City of Akko (Acre).


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