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October 9, 2015 | 26th Tishrei 5776

Peak water

Galilee Diary #388, May 4, 2008
Marc J. Rosenstein


For the land that you are about to enter and possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you have come. There the grain you sowed had to be watered by your own labors, like a vegetable garden; but 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.
-Deuteronomy 11:10-11

As we enjoyed a lovely, sunny and cool Yom Ha’atzma’ut this year, it struck us that weeks had passed since the last time we had had the opportunity to complain about the weather. There were a few hot days during Pesach, but otherwise, it feels as if the weather has been perfectly comfortable day after day for an unusually long number of consecutive days. The down side of this, of course, is that the weather is not news, so there is nothing to distract us from our more serious complaints and concerns. There is something therapeutic about complaining about the weather, so when the opportunity is denied, you are left with bigger problems to think about. But don’t worry, it is even possible to complain about perfect weather. Indeed, this perfect weather is actually the continuation of a whole season of nice days. The bad news is that that season happens to have been winter, when nice days are supposed to be a rare pleasure. In other words, beneath the pleasant experience lurks disaster – another dry year.

Israel’s relationship to water is sort of like the relationship of western society to petroleum: we know it is a limited resource, that we need it desperately, that as our level of industrialization and modernization and standard of living increase, so does our consumption of water. Periodically some prophet of doom points out that we are speeding headlong toward disaster, and that we can’t keep on assuming that everything will return to normal after this particular drought. But then it rains and we forget him. After all, the water supply here has always been inconsistent, which is why our Canaanite neighbors prayed to Baal, the rain god – and we ourselves understood from repeated warnings in Deuteronomy that the lovely picture in the above passage was not to be taken for granted: rain was a result of Divine favor, which would be withheld if we failed to observe God’s commandments. But now, whether as a result of God’s anger or just the predictable result of 60 years of refusing to think about the future, the “rains of heaven” are simply insufficient.

On Independence Day we went with friends to a beach on the Kinneret – a depressing experience, as we sat on the benches under the trees at the “normal” water line looking out over about 50 yards of the dry rocky slope of the exposed lake bottom. Now the experts are warning that the level may fall below the level of the intake pipes of the national water carrier, which pumps lake water to the center and south of the country.

The evidence is accumulating that we are reaching a kind of point of no return, in terms of using up and/or polluting existing water resources. When the environmental organizations raise a cry for conservation and recycling, the powers that be approve another giant desalination plant (driven, of course by power generated from coal and oil, of which Israel happens to have zero reserves). One of the most annoying and destructive aspects of Israeli culture and public discourse is the infamous “yi-hiyeh beseder” – “[don’t worry], it will be OK.” An expression of faith and optimism, I suppose – but also a shedding of responsibility for rational planning. Several years ago I heard a talk by the Commissioner for Future Generations, an office established by the Knesset in 2001 to review all legislation for its future impact – and to research and propose new laws to protect future generations (education, environment, infrastructure, etc.). I thought that he – and his office – were really impressive. But late in 2006 the Knesset voted to eliminate the office, just when it seems we need it most.

If we’re so smart, why are we so stupid? But don’t worry, yi-hiyeh beseder

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