A VICTIM OF PEACE - THE SEA OF GALILEE IS DEAD
by Barry Chamish
There are no more fish in the Sea of Galilee. After time immemorial, the historic lake is now ecologically dead, forever. RIP Peace.
The Sea of Galilee is known for its tempestuous storms and thriving fishing industry. But life there is changing with less rain and almost no fish left.
The lowest in the world and Israelâ€™s only freshwater lake, the Sea of Galilee is fed by the Jordan River and supplies much of the regionâ€™s water. Famously the site for many of Jesusâ€™ sermons, it also has a long fishing history. In the first century, the historian Flavius Josephus wrote that 230 fishing boats thrived on the lake. Twenty centuries later, the lake is at risk of being emptied of all its fish. This news just in from the Jerusalem Post.The Agriculture and Rural Development Ministry has issued temporary fishing licenses to fishermen in order to buy time. In between now and February 28, 2011, when the licenses will expire, the Knesset economic committee must decide what to do about the unprecedented low fish stock levels. In just one decade, fish stocks dropped by almost 2,000 tonnes from 2,144 in 1999 to just 156.8 in 2009. Apart from impacting on the livelihood of local fishermen, which is serious enough, what are the ecological effects of an over-fished lake? Last year a fishing ban was put in place in order to increase fish stock. It remains to be seen whether similar action will be taken this year. Compounding the lakeâ€™s ecological health are low water levels, presently at their lowest ever. Although last year between March and June the lake levels were above the â€œred lineâ€ â€“ below which levels are thought to be particularly bad â€“ lack of rain has kept levels devastatingly low. This despite efforts to cut back on the amount of water pumped out of the lake, last year, Lake Kinneret only received, on average, 60% of its annual rainfall.
Just before I was forced to leave Israel, some seven years ago, I took my son on what I thought would be an unforgettable childhood memory. An admirer of my writing owned a rare treasure in Israel, a fishing powerboat, and he invited my son and me on a trip of nearly a lifetime. With worms we dug from cow manure the day before in hand, at 3:00 AM, we launched the craft in the west of Lake Kinneret, for a water trip to fishing paradise. It was a dark, spooky ride along the coast, passing such ghost sites invisible from land, as a 19th century sunken riverboat, until we reached the vast reeds of the Jordan River outlet. There, in the encompassing, scary darkness, I hooked the worms and released our lines.
But, there were no bites. Just occasional snags.
No fishing explanation.
As the sun rose, we were in the northern Jordan River delta, a place I knew well from the past. During the 1980's, I wrote offbeat stories for an influential monthly called, The Israel Digest. One story, which received massive international reprints, was about my day with licensed Galilee fishermen. Actually it was OUR day; accompanying me was my girlfriend of the era, Shirley Schwartz, who shot lovely photos of the adventure. They sold half the reprints of fishermen hauling in their boats, hundreds of pounds of large, squirming Galilee fish, many, just hours later, frying above the charcoals of really tasty Tiberius sidewalk cafes. This was then, Sea of Galilee reality.
Today, they must import their fish.
My fishing day ended with one crummy fish. I did everything right; right bait, right place, right time. I failed before my son. What did I do wrong? The fish were dead, is what I did wrong. They were not to be caught, is what I did wrong.
Generations have carried on this tradition, and today the most popular fish in the lake is dubbed St. Peterâ€™s Fish, or Tilapia. But after being almost overfished to death, in the coming six weeks the Israeli government will gradually enforce a total ban on fishing in the biblical lake an effort to bring it back to life. The new, two-year ban will force some 200 licensed fishermen out of the Sea of Galilee in search of a new trade.â€œWe will support the fishermen and make sure the lake is restocked with fish,â€ Israelâ€™s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said when announcing the ban after his weekly cabinet meeting. The Sea of Galilee has witnessed a dramatic decline in fish, largely due to illegal practices such as catching breeding fish and preventing fish populations from growing. Millions of hungry migratory birds also feed heavily on the fish...â€œIn most Mediterranean countries, fishing is banned during the summer time and this allows the fish to breed and to grow,â€ says Prof. Goren. â€œHere in Israel we donâ€™t have any regulation of this kind right now. So the fishermen fish all year round and they donâ€™t give the fish any chance. They remove the mothers while they are small before they get to maturity and that is it.â€
Again, the fishermen get the blame for the disappearance of close to all fish life in Lake Kinneret. There were likely far more fishermen in biblical times than anytime in the past ten years when fish stocks dropped from typical to nearly non-existent. THEY ARE NOT THE CAUSE OF THE SEA OF GALILEE'S DEATH! A combination of global warning and "peace" is. As for the drought coinciding with "peace," darn the timing or it was divine intervention. Choose whatever you feel comfortable with. The core fact is, the Sea Of Galilee was doomed anyway by peace.
I knew that way back in '94 when I interviewed the water negotiator for the Israel-Jordan peace accord:
The truth is that the Kinneret is drying up from the activities of the "peacemakers." I should know. In 1994, I interviewed the chief Israeli negotiator of the Water Treaty between Jordan and Israel. Back then I was the Israeli correspondent for a London company called the Gemini News Service. Thanks to them, my work was published widely throughout Third World newspapers. I noticed a newspaper quote about the water negotiations from Yaacov Tsemach of the national water company, Tahal. It caught my eye because a Yaacov Tsemach was my really good, longtime army buddy. I admired his sharp wit and, a rarity among Israelis, great sense of humor. So I called Tahal and to my total delight, it was my buddy on the line.
We arranged to meet and got along like old times. He was assistant to the chief negotiator of the water sections of the then-building, Israeli-Jordanian Peace Treaty. I asked if I could interview the negotiator and he said he'd put in a good word for me. Well, a good word from Yaacov did the trick. If I agreed to keep the negotiator's name anonymous, he would meet with me within the week.
We met at a Tel Aviv restaurant and he began, like all good bureaucrats, handing me graphs and surveys. In retrospect, I've wondered why I brought out so many sources, but the truth must be, the rest of the media were selling "peace" and I was looking where they chose not to enter. The bar graphs showed a lot of blue above the "red" line of the lake over 30 odd years before the Treaty, then it sunk after the proposed "peace" agreement. I, naturally, asked what happened.
The negotiator ordered a drink, then shortly after, another. And he became teary.
"I sure hope our leaders know what they're doing," he said. "Because if they're wrong, the Kinneret will disappear in a generation. Within twenty years, it will be nearly useless for our water needs."
I asked what he meant. He then gave me the title of my Gemini article, "Giving Away Dream Water."
"The government is going to give away 50 million cubic meters of lake water a year and they ordered me to find it. I'm giving away dream water."
The negotiator told me where he went looking for the water. "There are brackish streams on the west of the lake. We'll give that away. We'll dam the Yarmuk and give that water away."
By a natural near-miracle, the Golan Heights' snow melt in March, fill the Jordan River, Hula Lake and the Sea of Galilee with sufficient clean water to last until next Spring. But in the 1950's, Israel, all but completely, drained her second largest lake, the Hula, mostly to plant a few more avocado groves. The country got a few more avocados and endlessly more methane fires, rat infestations, and ecological devastation from the dead lakebed.
Water, that used to be filtered of bacterial disease and infections by Lake Hula, poured straight into the Kinneret, some 300 ft, below sea level, and via the southern exit of the Jordan River, polluted the Dead Sea, some 100 ft. below sea level. The result for the Dead Sea, at least partly, was an environmental breakdown.
Before we get the cold, hard facts, another disturbing story; the lost tragedy of Israel's third biggest lake, Agam Baruch.
Situated just below Mount Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley, there once was a significant lake formed by damming the source of the Kishon River. I discovered it during an army training exercise in 1980. Soonafter, I turned it into a beloved fishing and camping spot for over two decades. Oh, the stories I won't tell...but the fishing was just as good.
In 2004, I returned with my son for a weekend of fishing and camping and what did we find? The lake, from one end to the other, was covered in belly-up white. All the fish had been poisoned. The big, the small, the tilapia, the eels, the catfish, the carp, were all dead.
We returned in 2005, me anyway, hoping the lake had recovered, and found the lake was drained, now a puddle, not even a lagoon. Yet fishermen surrounded the puddle, throwing in their hooks, with not a fish anymore alive.
I never discovered if the lake was killed by terrorism or by accident, but Israel's third largest freshwater body, like its second, the Hula, is gone forever. Now look at how nearby pollution is killing the Sea of Galilee.
As if the regional water scarcity wasnâ€™t bad enough already, Israel will soon begin compensating Jordan with freshwater after oil waste and sewage contaminated the shared Yarmouk River water supply. After detecting pollution from the Israeli side of the river last week, the Jordanian Ministry of Water and Irrigation suspended pumping from the King Abdullah Canal, which supplies Amman with one-third of its total water demand. The ministry also filed an official complaint against the Israeli government, claming a violation of Jordanâ€™s 1994 peace treaty with Israel. According to the agreement, Jordan receives 60,000 cubic meters of water daily from Israelâ€™s Lake Kinneret during the month of March. Jordan Valley Authority (JVA) Secretary General Musa Jamaani said Israel will pump up to 180,000 cubic meters from the Kinneret to Jordan, and will pump another 50-60,000 cubic meters this summer.
Mr. Jamaani also indicated that, although the relevant authorities will take steps to prevent similar incidents in the future, there are no safety guarantees. He said, â€œIf it reoccurs, we will close down the waterways and get our compensation. If Israel is fine with supplying us extra water in return for what it pollutes, itâ€™s up to themâ€¦ the pressure is on them rather than on us.â€
So here is how the Sea of Galilee ecologically works. It is surrounded by salt streams. It does not become the Dead Sea because, unlike it, it has an exit, the south end of the Jordan River, flowing well over a thousand feet down in a hundred miles to the lowest spot on earth, the Dead Sea. But if the Sea of Galilee loses too much freshwater, the salt streams win, turning the lake too briny and saline to support life. This level is called the Black Line, and once breached, the lake is killed FOREVER.
Israel is compensating Jordan for the water it polluted at a rate that falls far below the Sea of Galilee's Black Line. The issue, not discussed here, is WHY Israel gave away its water to Jordan, not to mention the Palestinians (23,000 thousand c/meters/yr), for "peace" treaties. Is Israel sovereign or not? Now look what Jordan did with the polluted Yarmuk River water? Did it ship it to water treatment facilities? Of course not;
He also assured the public that none of the contaminated water was pumped to consumers. Instead, the polluted waters were discarded into valleys that pour into the Jordan River, which flows to the Dead Sea. To me this is still a cause of concern, however, because the Jordan River is already extremely polluted, and the Dead Sea is a fragile, shrinking ecosystem.
Add to this:
Another cause for concern is that Israel will be pumping even more water out of the Kinneret. As further evidence of the severity of Israelâ€™s water crisis, the water level of the Kinneret is at an all-time low. This past summer, the level reached the black line, where pumping the water can cause permanent danger to the entire lake. So is it really a feasible solution for Israel to promise Jordan more water from the Kinneret, especially during the hot summer months? And if Israel canâ€™t provide the water it promised, how will this impact Jordan, whose own water crisis is even more severe?
And me concluding:
It is 1995. I had given a lecture on the real Rabin assassination at a Golan Heights village. On the way home, I stopped at an eastern Kinneret kibbutz and threw in my line below the pier which once held its fishing boats. It soared 15 feet above me and the ancient and recent lake level. From what I had learned in my profession, I thought, this lake is doomed. Knowing not how climate change and resulting drought will hurry the process along, I knew that draining the Sea of Galilee for peace had already murdered it.
And now it's gone, ecologically, for good.
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