Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm. (AFP)
Updated 13 November 2018
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Shrinking Sea of Galilee has some hoping for a miracle

  • The Sea of Galilee has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm
  • Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body
EIN GEV, Israel: It was not so long ago when swimmers at Ein Gev would lay out their towels in the grass at the edge of the Sea of Galilee.
Today, they put up their parasols 100 meters (yards) further down, on a sandy beach that has appeared due to the shrinking of the iconic body of water.
“Every time we come we feel an ache in our hearts,” said Yael Lichi, 47, who has been visiting the famous lake with her family for 15 years.
“The lake is a symbol in Israel. Whenever there is a drought, it is the first thing we talk about.”
In front of Lichi, wooden boats with Christian pilgrims aboard navigate the calm waters, among groups from across the world that visit.
The Sea of Galilee, where Christians believe Jesus walked on water, has been shrinking for years, mainly due to overuse, and environmentalists are raising the alarm.
Plans are being devised to resuscitate the freshwater body known to Israelis as the Kinneret and to some as Lake Tiberias.
For Israel, the lake is vital, having long been the country’s main source of water. Israeli newspaper Haaretz provides its water level daily on its back page.
Its shrinking has been a source of deep concern. When two islands appeared recently due to falling water levels, it received widespread attention in the Israeli media.
Since 2013 “we are below the low red line” beyond which “salinity rises, fish have difficulty surviving and vegetation is affected,” said Amir Givati, hydrologist at Israel’s water authority.
The level is only around 20 centimeters (less than eight inches) above the record low plumbed in 2001 — except, at that time, 400 million cubic meters (14.1 billion cubic feet) a year were pumped out for irrigation.
“This year, we only pumped 20 million cubic meters, but the lake is in a very bad state,” said Givati.
Added to that is the 50 million cubic meters Israel sends to neighboring Jordan as part of peace agreements.
Its unique characteristics go beyond its religious significance.
It is 200 meters (650 feet) below sea level, located north of the Dead Sea, the River Jordan between them.
Both the Dead Sea and the Jordan have also suffered from overuse.
The Galilee covers some 160 square kilometers (60 square miles), roughly the size of Liechtenstein.
At the water ministry, blame for its condition is placed on five years of drought.
But “climatic factors alone are inadequate to explain the record shrinkage of the Sea of Galilee,” wrote Michael Wine, Alon Rimmer and Jonathan Laronne, researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University.
Irrigated agriculture, pumping and diversions are the main culprits, they say in an analysis.
Israel constructed a national aqueduct in the 1950s in the years after the country’s birth, when it was on a quest for nation-building and sought to “make the desert bloom,” as its early pioneers put it.
The aqueduct carried water from the lake toward the rest of the country.
“Lake Tiberias was used as a national reservoir,” said Julie Trottier, a professor who specializes in Israeli-Palestinian water issues.
A man-made canal supplied water to the west toward the Mediterranean coast and into the Negev desert in the south, she said.
That system has not been in place for some 10 years. Now, most homes in the west of the country use desalinated water from the Mediterranean, while farms are irrigated with water that is treated and recycled.
But eastern Israel does not have access to desalinated water, said Orit Skutelsky, of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel.
Farmers in the region rely on rivers that provide 90 percent of the lake’s input.
Dozens of pumps remove nearly 100 million cubic meters (3.5 billion cubic feet) each year from those sources, whose flow has decreased and is no longer enough to supply the lake, says the researcher.
Several kilometers from the beaches at Ein Gev, at the foot of rocky hills, immense nets cover banana trees whose leaves wilt with the surrounding dry vegetation.
“We call it the valley of bananas,” said Meir Barkan, tourism director for the Ein Gev resort.
“When they began planting trees, there was no water problem and the banana is the only fruit that you harvest year-round.”
But without desalinated or recycled water, the farms are a main player in the “competition for resources between nature, agriculture and tourism,” said Eran Feitelson, geography professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University.
For Lior Avichai, agronomist at the Zemach Nisyonot research center, the solution is not to “kill agriculture and the local economy,” but to use less water.
Authorities propose providing the region with desalinated water via the aqueduct.
Skutelsky said that to better manage the ecosystem, the water should be sent further upstream and then allowed to flow down naturally.
But “that would be very expensive,” said Skutelsky.
Menahem Lev, 59, has spent 39 years of his life on the lake as a fisherman.
In his open palm, he displays a Saint Peter’s fish just pulled from his nets, barely bigger than his hand.
“The solution can only come from the government — or from the sky,” he said.
He points to the half-abandoned dock which pilgrims’ boats can no longer reach, forcing visitors to disembark on the bank.
“I am really ashamed when tourists see the lake in this state,” Lev said.


History of Al-Zareeb Castle in Tabuk celebrated in new study

Al-Zareeb Castle in Al-Wajih governorate in Tabuk was also used as a resting place for pilgrims traveling to Makkah. (SPA)
Updated 16 December 2018
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History of Al-Zareeb Castle in Tabuk celebrated in new study

  • The castle also includes a prayer area (musalla) and residential units surrounded by water wells
  • The city is full of historical monuments and is mentioned in the books of Arab travelers

JEDDAH: The King Abdul Aziz Foundation for Research and Archives (DARAH) has published a history of Al-Zareeb Castle in Al-Wajh governorate in Tabuk, to mark the visit of King Salman bin Abdul Aziz to the region. Located 10 km east of Al-Wajh, surrounded by mountains, the castle was built in 1617 to protect pilgrims and their goods on their way to and from their Hajj journey. It was also used as a resting place for pilgrims traveling to Makkah.
It is well supplied by groundwater and is located 7.5 km from the international coastal route linking Al-Wajh and other coastal areas, such as Yanbuh, Umlaj and Duba.
The castle was built during the era of Sultan Ahmed I of the Ottoman Empire on the route of the Egyptian Hajj, that is to say the pilgrims coming from Egypt and North Africa. It was bombed during the Great Arab Revolt in 1916 and was recently renovated. Castles such as this were built in the form of the mini-city model.
The report said the rectangular castle has a set of towers surrounding the courtyards. The castle also includes a prayer area (musalla) and residential units surrounded by water wells. It is considered one of the most important remaining archaeological sites in the Tabuk region. The castle was built in stone, with an entrance on the eastern side and two ponds for water storage. Al-Zareeb castle marks the importance of castles at that time, aiding pilgrims as they traveled to the holy lands by horse and donkey. Pilgrims needed a place with water to rest and these castles allowed them to store their luggage safely.

Renovation
In the renovation work, the same types of stone and materials were used to preserve the original appearance of the castle’s exterior.
A cemetery is located to the east of the castle on a hillside. It is believed to contain the tombs of the soldiers who fought to protect the pilgrims’ route.
Al-Wajh city lies on the eastern coast of the Red Sea and is considered an important historical port, given its major role in the stimulation of trade before and after Islam.
The city is full of historical monuments and is mentioned in the books of Arab travelers, historians and even explorers such as Sir Richard Burton.