Recently, I was standing in the living room talking to Tami, who was
sitting on the couch, when suddenly she said, There, did you feel something? I
had to admit that I didnt know what she was talking about. Sure enough, the
next day we read in the newspaper about a minor earthquake that had affected the
region. This is not the first time Tami has been aware of seismic activity under
our feet, while I have remained oblivious to it. The point here is not my
insensitivity, but rather, the fact that we live in an earthquake zone.
Sometimes I wonder what God was thinking when He chose this particular sliver of
the world to promise to us. OK, so our desert may not be quite as arid and
forbidding as that of our neighbors to the east and the west but it also
doesnt lie on top of vast deposits of petroleum, like their deserts do. Nicely
positioned as a bridge between Asia and Africa and between the Mediterranean
Sea and the Indian Ocean - this land has always served as a crossroads for trade
and cultural transmission but also for the conquering armies of competing
empires, who have been marching back and forth across our little patch of
homeland since history began to be recorded. A land flowing with milk and honey
indeed, but only in a rainy year; living as we do squeezed between the
Mediterranean and the desert, it rains only during half the year, and the entire
cycle of natural flora and agriculture depends on how many millimeters of rain
fall during the winter months. Thats why our Canaanite predecessors here prayed
to Baal, the rain god, and we did too, when the prophets werent looking.
Droughts, wars, energy prices we can deal with it. But whose idea
was it to settle directly along one of the most active fault lines in the world?
From Metulla in the north to Eilat in the south, the dominant feature of the
landscape of Israel is the Syro-African rift valley, a massive meeting of
tectonic plates that lies beneath the Jordan river, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead
Sea, the Arava, and the Gulf of Aqaba. It is this fault that gives us hot
springs and sulfur springs and tar springs beneath the Dead Sea. And it is the
shifting of plates in this valley that has produced a long series of earthquakes
seismologists estimate about one every 50 years. The most recent that caused
property damage was in 1995 (even I felt that one). The most recent to cause
deaths (about 400) was in 1927. Archaeologists find evidence of earlier quakes
throughout the span of history; Bet Shean was destroyed in 746; Safed in 1759
and again in 1837.
The words of Amos, a sheep breeder from Tekoa, who prophesied
concerning Israel in the reigns of Kings Uzziah of Judah and Jeroboam son of
Joash of Israel, two years before the earthquake.
And the valley of the hills shall be stopped up as it was stopped up
as a result of the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah.
After that one, in 759 BCE, we know of a number of other major
quakes: in 31 BCE, 68 CE, 553, 746, 963, 1033, 1067, 1138, 1202, 1546, 1837,
1927 If you were looking for reasons not to visit, now you have another one.
Like everyone else, it seems that our connection to place is not
based on rational considerations. If people chose their location rationally,
think of all the places that would be uninhabited today places prone to killer
hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, droughts, blizzards, terror, and violent crime.
We are bound to places by memory, by history, by inertia, by ideology, by the
joy of the spring after the blizzard, the calm after the earthquake. Place
becomes part of our identity and it is nearly impossible to tear it out of us.
There is a deep insight into human nature in the account of the First
Earthquake, at Sodom (right on the fault line). The angels said to Lots family:
Flee for your life! Do not look behind you [Gen. 19:17] But Lots wife
looked back, and she thereupon turned into a pillar of salt. [Gen. 19:26]. And
if you dont believe it, you can see the pillar of salt by the shore of the Dead
Sea, to this day. Meanwhile, here we sit, occupied with our trivial pursuit of
peace and prosperity, waiting for the Big One.