Growing faith

At the El-Mona garden in the Western Galilee, time stands still as a chorus of gurgling fountains blends together in perfect harmony, instantly dispelling any intrusive thoughts.

Garden (photo credit: ILANA SRAIER-PHILLIPS)
If you’ve ever wanted to leave the hustle and bustle of the real world for a few hours, the hills of Julis in the Western Galilee are a good place for a respite. Nestled in this 16th-century Druse village of around 5,000 residents lies the El-Mona garden, a haven for weary travelers or lovebirds looking for the perfect place to propose marriage.
The terraced garden, which covers an area of 0.7 hectares (1.7 acres), is the pride and joy of Naji Abbas, a modest, peaceful man of unbreakable spirit. His strong beliefs transcend differences in race, religion and color. According to the former IDF career soldier, every human being has a mission to carry out on Earth. He believes his own is to unite people of all faiths. His wonderfully tolerant world view is abundantly reflected in the tranquil garden, where the strong and the weak coexist. “Here, there is no arguing and shouting,” says Abbas, explaining how, unlike humans, the trees and plants display a sense of tolerance toward one another and a willingness to sacrifice.
In this magical garden bearing the name of his late mother, Abbas has created a tree embodying his mission by combining three fruits – orange, pomelo and red grapefruit. In the same way, El-Mona unites three faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
The garden was originally created by Abbas’s grandfather and continues to flourish, nurtured lovingly by the capable hands of Abbas, his five children and his wife, Janan, who he says is responsible for 80 percent of the work.
This secret paradise, which is open seven days a week, has become a favorite with brides and grooms of all faiths who come here to pose for their picture-perfect wedding photographs.
Although entrance to the garden is free, organized photo shoots are by appointment and incur a fee.
Hidden from sight and guarded by the watchful eyes of a statue from the Middle Ages, the entrance to the premises entices visitors to explore the treasures within. Stone archways decorated with earthen jugs and potted plants lead to the first terrace. Water gushes from the gaping mouth of a stone fish as guests meander along the winding path, passing windmills and crossing narrow wooden bridges. Alcoves draped with curtains of creepers provide a shady respite and sculptures of serpents, crocodiles, eagles and other creatures peek out from behind the nooks and crannies, transforming every twist and turn into an adventure. A series of moss-covered stairs leads to a weatherworn door opening onto a charming patio. Sunlight streams in through the pale blue wooden shutters, and a round table and two chairs with hearts carved in their backrests beckon invitingly.
Attached to Abbas’s house is the main courtyard, adorned by an ornate fountain and an enormous mirror reflecting the entrance to the garden.
From their perch on the mirror, two pigeons invite visitors to cross the adjacent wooden bridge to a balcony overlooking the sweeping valley below.
For a fleeting moment, the City Mall in the distance recalls the world outside, but in the garden, time stands still as a chorus of gurgling fountains blends together in perfect harmony, instantly dispelling any intrusive thoughts.
Near the main courtyard of Abbas’s abode lies a small stone building that houses a collection of artifacts bearing witness to the intriguing history of the Abbas family.
“Without a past, we have no future,” he asserts, remarking with pride that his father, Rashid, was the first Druse to volunteer in World War II.
En route to the garden’s lower terrace, another cozy respite hosts a stone bench littered with velvety cushions, embraced by a Moroccan-style arch. A swing entwined with bashful pink roses beckons playfully to visitors to sway to and fro, leaving their worries far behind.
A burst of color explodes from the trees and flowers on the lower terrace as visitors emerge from a tunnel dotted with colored lanterns. The exit reveals an enormous, wooden waterwheel.
“This is the wheel of life,” states Abbas.
At any given time, the water cascading from the top of the wheel is in a prime position, but as the wheel turns, the lower stations encounter the same path, all ultimately reaching the top at varying times.
According to Abbas, every human being is confronted with a final station in life. The birth of his only daughter, Raneen, at the time of his father’s death, inspired Abbas to build a railway track and accompanying waiting room. This station, together with the wheel of life, is symbolic of the meeting point of grandfather and granddaughter, and reflects Rashid’s final stop on the journey of life.
Adjacent to the railway waiting room, a wooden bridge runs alongside a waterfall surrounded by lush green palms, ferns and numerous other plants. Abbas plans to increase the size of the waterfall to yield a mass of 1,000 liters per minute. From the bridge, newlyweds will be invited to seal their future together by locking a padlock and casting the key into the water below.
As each day draws to a close, Abbas embarks on a journey of soul-searching in which he takes stock of his day, writing down his achievements and attempting to correct any mistakes he may have made.
He also records his plans for the following day so that if, for any reason, he shouldn’t live to see it, his children will be able to continue his work.
When asked if he ever finds the stream of visitors intrusive, Abbas replies that “a garden of Eden without people is worthless.”
In the spring of 2013 he plans to open a coffee shop in the billiard room that was built for his children. This addition will surely change the face of El-Mona. But no matter what the future holds, Abbas’s desire to treasure the memory of his beloved parents makes El-Mona a sanctuary for people of all faiths in search of a place to feed the soul and sanctify the spirit.
To arrange a visit call (04) 996-4760.