It’s not just Israel and Palestine fighting for a sliver of land in the Middle East. Tiny—and largely unknown—Akhziv Land is also among the states claiming a piece of the small Middle Eastern nation.
Israel has been the battleground of staked land claims since most of the global population can remember. But what isn’t as well known is that a third party has been fighting for a share of the contentious land since 1952, when a young Israeli soldier claimed a section of abandoned ground for himself.
Twenty-four-year-old Eli Avivi, fresh from fighting in Israel’s navy during the War for Independence, decided he was fed up with his home nation and wanted to build his own country. He stumbled upon Akhziv, a deserted former Arab fishing village on Israel’s northern shore. After taking over an abandoned hilltop house—the only structure left in the settlement—Avivi proclaimed Akhziv Land’s independence, and thus was born his own sovereign nation within one of the world’s most disputed countries.
“I loved Israel. I fought for Israel. But I didn’t like the government,” he told Lonely Planet in 2009. “So I made a passport for myself and declared this place independent, just as Israel itself did before me.”
Today, the octogenarian still rules his self-proclaimed micro-nation alongside his wife, Rina. But their now-peaceful home didn’t come without a fight.
In the 1970s, Avivi came to blows with developers and the government over his small plot of land. Since it was founded, Akhziv Land had become a bohemian destination for hippies and artistic nomads visiting from around the world. The ragtag group of travelers would throw large festivals, parties, and concerts in the bite-sized country, though Avivi proclaimed he would not tolerate orgies or hashish smoking. Celebrities like Paul Newman and Sophia Loren even dropped by for tours. But in 1971, Avivi’s house and protective fence were bulldozed in a sign of the government’s displeasure at the goings-on in his territory.
On one particularly explosive day—not long after the bulldozing ordeal—Avivi grabbed his gun and threatened to shoot the developers slowly inching onto his property. He was arrested and jailed on charges of “Creation of a Country Without Permission,” but a judge threw out his case, reportedly saying that the charges were not legitimate. Rumor has it that, at some point after this decision, the government agreed to lease Avivi the land for 99 years.
Today, things have settled down in Akhziv Land, but the graybeard squatter-turned-king continues to welcome vacationers to his pseudo-country. He operates a hostel (for around $25 a night, according to recent reviews) and campsite, offering food, entertainment, and a gorgeous private coastline.
Avivi has pieced together the State Museum of Agriculture, Archaeology and Navigation, filled with an impressive array of his archaeological finds, including, he claims, remnants of German battleships from WWII and weapons from Napoleon’s army. The artifacts came from undersea dives and excavations from the area, which has been inhabited for at least 3,000 years.
Visitors who make the journey will have something to show for their dubiously official entry into Israel’s state-within-a-state. Avivi stamps his guest’s passport pages with a custom-made design featuring an image of the micro-country. This piece of official bureaucracy is one of many tailor-made for the small nation—Akhziv Land also has a flag, coat of arms, national anthem (the sound of waves), and occasionally even marriage certificates.
After more than 60 years, Avivi has made no moves to rejoin Israel proper. Who would want to leave Akhziv Land when, as the nation’s website describes, its inhabitants are fulfilling a “life of true beauty, nature and freedom, where there’s no time, but only sea, sun, stars, winds full of scents of flowers in the shadowy branches of ancient trees, and lizard-ridden stones”?