On Israel’s coastal road, in an idyllic bay situated just south of Lebanon, about nine miles north of Akko, lies Achzivland, the only “country” in the Middle East that has never been engaged in any military conflict. Eli Avivi, a Persian born Jew, whose family moved to Israel in the 1930s, got into an argument with the Israeli government and didn’t want to live in Israel anymore, so he created his own state. He declared in 1971 the private state of Achzivland in Israel, a place that technically doesn’t exist (Israel has never recognized Achzivland).

At age 15, he joined the Palyam, the “underground Jewish Navy,” and helped smuggle Jewish refugees into the country. It was on a trip in 1952, to visit his sister, that he walked the coast and fell in love with the abandoned Arab fishing village al-Zib. He decided to stay and catch fish, which he sold to the local kibbutz. In the early 1960s, he met and married his wife Rina. Together, they embraced the peace-and-love movement and hosted communal festivities and happenings full of wandering nudists. The first “Israeli Woodstock” attracted as much as 10,000 people. When shooting the movie Exodus, Paul Newman was a frequent visitor in Achzivland, and even Sophia Loren was a regular guest.

This is a land that doesn’t exist, a secret paradise, created by a Persian sailor. There is no entry procedure, you can just walk through the large blue iron gates which mark the border. This is a mixed up land, that I have mixed up feelings about. It has deep and beautiful things to say about imagination, and courage, and perhaps of not wanting to grow up, and escape. It has a brilliant flag with a lovely image of a mermaid and the anthem is the sound of the sea. It has a constitution, a House of Parliament, stamps, and even its own passport. Achzivland is an embodiment of a thought many of us have had as children or adults, that we don’t really want to grow up, that we want to escape into an endless land of adventures, without any responsibility whatsoever, and the price we might have to pay for that. Not an easy life, one that is frowned upon in our world of rules, obligations, and regulations.

(Ticia Verveer)

Israeli authorities have sought to build a highway and a national park right on the village’s land. One day in 1963, the government sent bulldozers to demolish the remains of the old village. Eli stood on the bulldozers demanding them to stop. In the summer of 1971 officials erected a fence around Eli’s land, cutting off his access to the beach. In a defining moment, Eli and Rina ripped up their Israeli passports and declared Achziv independent. They were arrested, taken to court and taken into custody for eight days. But the judges were faced with a legal loophole in Israeli law. There was no Israeli law against the founding of a state or declaring land your own. As a compromise, the Avivis agreed to officially lease the land from the state for a period of 99 years, but this legal ambiguity over the status of Achzivland continues to this day.

(Ticia Verveer)

Achzivland became a hippie retreat to escape from work, responsibility, or money worries, with utopian ideals. Eli and Rina were not the first man and woman to have yearned for a better place or society. Dreamers have dreamed them on islands, at the tops of mountains, and other remote pieces of land. Since Eusebius’s Panchaea and Iambulus’s Islands of the Sun, fictive utopias occupied the minds of people, with desire and hope for a better society, escaping the so-called social lie. In 1516, Thomas More published a work describing an ideal island state, which he called Utopia. His book imagines a complex, self-contained community set on an island, in which people share a common culture and way of life. He coined the word “utopia” from the Greek ou-topos meaning “no place” or “nowhere.” It was a pun — the almost identical Greek word eu-topos means “a good place.”

(Ticia Verveer)

The strangeness of this land brings me also to Peter Pan’s island, which was called the Never, Never, Never Land in the first draft of the play, and reminds me of the description of the favorite resting place of the mermaids, who live within the depths of the sea, in Barrie’s 1911 novel “Peter and Wendy.”

“If you shut your eyes and are a lucky one, you may see at times a shapeless pool of lovely pale colours suspended in the darkness; then if you squeeze your eyes tighter, the pool begins to take shape, and the colours become so vivid that with another squeeze they must go on fire. But just before they go on fire you see the lagoon. This is the nearest you ever get to it on the mainland, just one heavenly moment; if there could be two moments you might see the surf and hear the mermaids singing”.

Flag of Akhzivland. (Wikimedia Commons 3.0)

The mermaid flag is a symbolic representation of Eli’s love for the ocean, but as a creature of duality, belonging to two worlds, the mermaid also embodies the contradiction and unity of Achzivland. She is a half-human, half-fish creature that absorbs and transforms whatever hopes, anxieties, ambitions, and fears we imprint upon her. In ancient times the mermaid had a protective function, warding off evil and bringing good luck to people and places. But here in Achzivland, at the very heart of it, lies the vital question, can a perfect world ever be realized? I am sure that many on occasion would like to live in a place like this, a place to be shipwrecked, to live free of obligations. Don’t think, by the way, that any of this is meant to be approving. I feel that everyone must grow up, yes everyone, and trying not to grow up has harmful consequences for anyone who isn’t Peter Pan. It’s time to grow up, to remember Never, Never, Never land does not exist, and to keep fun and responsibility in moderation to things that matter most.

In the words of Ursula K Le Guin, “Every utopia since Utopia has also been, clearly or obscurely, actually or possibly, in the author’s or in the readers’ judgment, both a good place and a bad one. Every utopia contains a dystopia, every dystopia contains a utopia.”