Weep for Is­rael’s dis­re­gard of its liq­uid as­set

Just as we are beginning to shake off the ac­cu­sa­tion of killing Christ, why wreck his lake?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment & Analysis - NATHAN JEF­FAY

THE MEN­TAL­ITY EPIT­O­MISES Is­raeli short-sight­ed­ness. Fill the pri­vate swim­ming pools of Ra’anana and Her­zlia to­day; worry about the fu­ture to­mor­row. The Kin­neret, the Sea of Galilee, is dry­ing up. Wa­ter is at the low­est level on record. A “red line” has been crossed and a “black line” looms. The lat­ter marks the level past which wa­ter pres­sure will be in­ad­e­quate to stop springs in the lake emit­ting large amounts of salt­wa­ter. No­body is quite sure whether, if the Kin­neret turned salty, the dam­age could be un­done.

A few decades ago, the dif­fer­ence be­tween the lake’s an­nual high­est and low­est lev­els was about 1.5 me­tres. In re­cent years, it has been as high as six me­tres. This is partly down to bad luck — as pop­u­la­tion and de­mand for wa­ter have grown, there have been sev­eral dry patches. In 2008, the fourth year of drought in a row, rain­fall has been es­pe­cially low. But bad man­age­ment is also to blame.

Some 33 miles by 13 miles of wa­ter form­ing the low­est fresh-wa­ter lake in the world, the Kin­neret is an amaz­ing na­tional as­set. It pro­vides a third of Is­rael’s fresh wa­ter. “Al­though God has cre­ated seven seas, He has cho­sen this one as His spe­cial de­light,” said the rab­bis of the Tal­mud.

Pump­ing con­tin­ues at the Kin­neret what­ever the state of the wa­ter. There has been an all-round fail­ure to in­vest ad­e­quately in de­sali­na­tion plants, and de­sali­na­tion stands at around a third of the tar­get set by the gov­ern­ment in 2002.

Aquifers and wells have not been prop­erly re­ha­bil­i­tated. Is­rael’s toi­lets are flushed with drink­ing wa­ter be­cause rain­wa­ter har­vest­ing is al­most un­heard of. And there are vir­tu­ally no pub­lic cam­paigns to save wa­ter.

De­spite all of this, agri­cul­ture — which uses 30 per cent of the county’s fresh wa­ter at sub­sidised rates — is flour­ish­ing, es­pe­cially for the ex­port mar­ket. It doesn’t take a ge­nius to point out that ex­port­ing fruit and veg­eta­bles is akin to ex­port­ing wa­ter.

Qual­ity as well as quan­tity is di­min­ish­ing at the Kin­neret. As wa­ter lev­els fluc­tu­ate, odd al­gae ap­pear. There are too many leeches to main­tain the nor­mal ecosys­tem. Mean­while, chronic over-fish­ing is de­plet­ing fish stocks.

This sorry story presents Is­rael with three prob­lems. The first is ob­vi­ous — a wors­en­ing wa­ter cri­sis and a de­te­ri­o­rat­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

The sec­ond is that the Kin­neret feeds large quan­ti­ties of wa­ter to the River Jor­dan, site of Je­sus’s bap­tism and as such sa­cred to a third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion. Or rather, it does when there is wa­ter to feed.

A dry­ing River Jor­dan — which is what we have at the mo­ment — is hardly the best recipe for an in­crease in tourism. Un­less (and this may suit the men­tal­ity of short­ter­mism re­spon­si­ble for this mess) the tourism min­istry mar­kets a “last chance to see the Jor­dan be­fore it dries up”.

The third prob­lem is that Is­rael is ren­der­ing it­self even more cul­pa­ble than it is at present in the world arena. The Jewish state has quite enough ac­cu­sa­tions stacked up against it, and crit­ics are al­ready beginning to make use of its en­vi­ron­men­tal record as am­mu­ni­tion.

The last legacy that Is­rael needs is that it took hold of a lake and, within a few decades of state­hood, wrecked it. And this isn’t just any lake.

The Kin­neret is famed and revered as the fo­cal point of Je­sus’s min­istry. Sev­eral of his dis­ci­ples were fish­er­men and var­i­ous New Tes­ta­ment pas­sages are set there. Es­pe­cially in th­ese days when anti-Is­rael rhetoric bor­rows so much from clas­sic an­tisemitism, do we re­ally want to find our­selves in a sit­u­a­tion where, just as we are beginning to shake off the ac­cu­sa­tion of killing Christ, we are held re­spon­si­ble for wreck­ing his lake?

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