Sea of Galilee 298.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israel has reached the long, dry summer season and, as predicted, the Sea of Galilee has dropped to dangerous levels that could cause irreversible damage to this delicate and invaluable water source. Most Israelis probably don't realize it, but part of that "damage" could be yet another public relations disaster abroad - a "Galilee Gaffe" - since Christians worldwide consider the Sea itself to be one of the historic sites connected with the life and ministry of Jesus.
I have witnessed first-hand this looming crisis develop this year while staying at resort cabins along the edge of the lake, first during Passover and more recently at the start of July, when one could actually see a new island forming 200 meters offshore. The resorts were lush and lovely, with manicured lawns and spacious swimming pools, making for pleasant surroundings but at the cost of the receding waters right next door.
Israelis view the Sea of Galilee in a completely different way than Christians. In fact it even has a different name - Lake Kinneret, derived from the Hebrew word for its harp-like shape.
To Israelis the Galilee is, first of all, the nation's primary fresh water reservoir which for decades has supplied up to 40% of Israel's potable water. The National Water Carrier carries this precious resource all the way down to the Negev, allowing the desert to "blossom as a rose" in fulfillment of Isaiah's prophetic vision. In addition, the Kinneret has also become Israel's "Lake Tahoe," a favorite spot for family campouts and barbeques by the shore, for jet skiing and wind surfing. It is an oasis for recreational water sports in an otherwise parched land.
FOR CHRISTIANS, on the other hand, the idea of racing across the Galilee on a jet ski, its engine blaring and leaking gas into the sea, is something of a sacrilege - even for a lifelong surfer and waterman like me. There is nothing wrong with such fun pursuits, but for us this is simply the wrong place for it, not here where Jesus calmed the storm and walked over its billowing waves. Here where he urged ordinary fishermen to drop their nets and follow him.
It is not just Capernaum and Tabgha and the Mount of Beatitudes that are considered holy sites for Christians. The entire Sea of Galilee is revered as "the place" where so many of the miracles and messages of his earthly ministry happened.
Thus to do irreversible harm to the Sea of Galilee could become a sore point in relations between Jews and Christians, one which Israel's adversaries will exploit to the fullest.
Israel's Water Authority is warning that, after four years of sub-average rainfall, the Sea of Galilee is approaching the lower 'red line' when the concentration of pollutants rises to undesirable levels and pumping water from the lake is prohibited.
Given current consumption and evaporation rates, later this summer the sea is expected to approach the "black line" of 214.4 meters below sea level, at which point the openings to the pumps for the National Water Carrier are exposed to the air, forcing the pumping system to shut down. At that stage, the ecological harm could be beyond repair.
This would also put an extra strain on the mountain and coastal aquifers, which supply the rest of Israel's waters, especially if over-pumping of these underground reserves draws in seepage from the brackish waters under the Mediterranean.
Thus, an emergency water rationing plan is about to be imposed nationwide that will restrict washing cars, watering lawns and other water uses that we normally take for granted. Everyone residing in Israel will need to adjust our life styles accordingly.
Besides these measures, experts say the answer to the current water crisis is three-fold:
1. Huge adjustments need to be made in Israel's agricultural sector, since local farmers consume half of the water but at discount rate of only 40% of that of ordinary consumers, even though this industry accounts for only 2% of the country's GNP. Israeli bananas are sweet and tasty but they take a lot of water to grow, so it must be asked if they are really worth it.
2. The nation needs to bring more desalination plants on line. Despite the high costs of this form of water supply, the nation cannot afford to bypass this remedy. Former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pushed through approvals for two new desalination plants, yet they have only made up for the increase in demand over recent years. More plants are due to come into service in future, but maybe not in time to save the Galilee.
3. Israel needs to employ more innovative techniques like it has become world famous for, such as drip irrigation and the use of brackish ground water sources in the Negev to irrigate specially adapted crops.
The Sea of Galilee is the 'gem' at the center of an incredibly unique eco-system, from snow-capped Mt. Hermon down the rushing Upper Jordan, past the shining lake and on to the Lower Jordan as it meanders towards the lowest body of water on earth, the Dead Sea.
We should all treasure it enough to preserve it, even if not everyone follows the man who calmed the sea.
The writer is media director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. www.icej.org
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