A city with potential.His friends and neighbors used to call him crazy. Today he is known as a visionary. Meet Eliya Mourany, an Israeli-Arab Catholic who at 58 – when others start thinking about retiring – has opened ancient Acre’s hottest new boutique hotel.
The five-star renovated hotel called Akkotel, developed from a dilapidated 18 century building in Acre’s Old City, is bringing the ancient port city back to life. Rife today with crime and poverty, the Israeli city has enormous potential to be the jewel of the Middle East.
Located on the Mediterranean Sea and surrounded by water on all three sides, the city is full of fortresses, churches and mosques. Its impressive architecture represents different rulers who have presided over the city through the centuries.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Acre which is also known as Akko, has never found a way to live up to its potential. Until now. Mourany tells ISRAEL21c, “Everyone said that there was no chance this project would succeed, and that it was a terrible business opportunity. They said it was crazy.
“I say now, with the help of God, my hotel has succeeded. I am getting reservations from people from all over the world.”
Some visitors, he agrees, are curious about the fact that there is an important Arab Christian community living in Israel – a fact that is not too often publicized in the mainstream media. “People ask, I answer,” says Mourany, who like most Israelis is open to talking about religion with outsiders.
But Mourany, from the neighboring village of Meillya, is really representative of the larger multi-cultural story happening in Acre – a city that has evolved into a special community of Jews, Muslims and Christians all living together. This is a harmony not commonly found anywhere else in the Middle East, and even in Israel.
“Acre is a mixed city. We have all the religions here,” says Mourany.
This fact must be appealing to foreigners as well: for the past year Mourany has been entertaining guests from the United States, Japan, Australia, Canada – even the US ambassador to Israel.
With reasonable prices at about $200 – $250 a night, comparable to chain hotel prices in Eilat, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, Akkotel gives tourists an authentic Middle East experience not found anywhere else. There are only 16 rooms, so those interested must be sure to book in advance.
“This is a very high level boutique hotel,” says Mourany, who is known for spoiling his guests. He also answers the hotel phone, apologizing for the lack of reception due to the thick walls of the hotel that cuts off cell phone transmission.
Previously a nurse and nursing teacher at Tel Aviv University, Mourany has since made a leap in his career. He now oversees a restaurant and cafeteria that offers both Eastern “mizrachi” fare and Western gourmet.
All of this is happening in the backdrop of Acre, behind its colorful shuks and busy promenade, its ruins and architecture. Visitors to Akkotel will be staying close to it all: The Hellenistic-Roman period ruins and buildings built by the Crusaders and Ottoman Empire. There is the Al Jazar Mosque, the subterranean Crusader city, the Turkish baths and the Bahai Temple.
Memories of the ancient Canaanites, Greeks, Romans, Mamelukes, Turks and the British fill the air, giving this multi-cultural Jewish-Arab city the potential to one day become the region’s most spectacular.