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December 18, 2014 | 26th Kislev 5775

Water

Galilee Diary #335, April 29, 2007

Marc J. Rosenstein

…The land you are about to cross into and possess, a land of hills and valleys, soaks up its water from the rains of heaven… If then, you obey the commandments that I enjoin upon you this day, loving the Lord your God and serving him with all your heart and soul, I will grant the rain for your land in season, the early rain and the late.

-Deuteronomy 11:11-14

Checking out a hiking route between two important historical sites in our neighborhood, Yodfat and Zippori, I took the hike with a friend. After climbing down Mt. Atzmon, on a spur of which Yodfat was located, we passed through the Moslem village of Kfar Manda and headed south, across the flat, fertile bottom of the Bet Netofa Valley. Most of this valley is a patchwork of small fields, mostly vegetables, belonging to the Arab villages clustered along its margins. But there are also larger fields, devoted to grain and cotton, farmed by collective Jewish communities. This valley has been known for its fertility since ancient times. Often, the eastern section of it floods during the winter, and some fields remain under water until well into the spring.

The hike turned out to be long and boring, plodding along rutted dirt roads between the fields, the terrain flat – with nary a tree for shade anywhere. For a good part of the time the road ran alongside the National Water Carrier, a concrete canal protected by high chain-link fences, that runs the length of the valley, carrying a constant stream of water pumped over the mountains from the northern end of the Kinneret. The water flows through this channel to a reservoir at the western end of the valley, where it enters underground pipes and continues on to the center and south of the country, part of a grid drawing water from several underground aquifers. This project, finished in 1964, was one of Israel’s proudest engineering achievements, and was important for the development of the Negev. Essentially, the canal along which we walked represents a diversion of the Jordan River – if this water were not pumped out of the Kinneret, it would flow out the other end and down the Jordan to the Dead Sea.

Whatever it is, of course, it is not enough, and Israel is simply using up its water resources. Each year it seems the experts publish a new, lower “red line” beneath which the water level of the Kinneret is not supposed to fall. The Dead Sea is disappearing for lack of water from the Jordan; the subterranean aquifers are being over-used, allowing saline water to invade them – not to mention polluted runoff that enters all of our streams and aquifers. Israel is a world leader in desalination technology – for export. The first large-scale desalination plant in Israel, near Ashkelon, just went on line at the end of 2005. It uses a very efficient reverse osmosis technology – but its massive pumps are of course driven by electricity generated by burning coal and oil. There is no free lunch.

Some say that part of our problem is our commitment to agriculture, that may be based more on Zionist ideology (back to the soil) than on rational cost-benefit calculations; e.g., should we really be growing water-intensive, soil-depleting crops like cotton here? On the other hand because of that commitment - and our dry reality – we gave the world drip irrigation systems, that have changed agriculture and made irrigation many times more efficient all over the world. And, as globalized as we become, there is still some kind of spiritual and maybe even ecological value in being self-sufficient in at least some of our foodstuffs (fruits and vegetables and chicken. Most grain and beef is imported).

As with so many things, looking at our management of water resources can be depressing – or can be a source of pride and optimism (it’s the half-empty glass vs. the half-full one – literally). If we can get it right we can be truly a light unto the nations. But if not - we may live to see the dire prophecies of Deuteronomy fulfilled.

Take care not to be lured away to serve other gods and bow to them. For the Lord’s anger will flare up against you, and He will shut up the skies so that there will be no rain and the ground will not yield its produce; and you will soon perish from the good land that the Lord is assigning to you.

-Deuteronomy 11:16-17

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