Within a few decades, the Dead Sea will become the lowest salt wilderness in the world. It may even be the lowest salt puddle in the world. Visitors fond of ecological disasters will go on special tours to see the fields of sinkholes and the flooded hotels. And everyone will probably blame the government for letting it happen. However, some of the main contributors to the demise of the Dead Sea are likely to be certain organizations fighting for the environment.
There is today only one practical option for saving the Dead Sea: the canal connecting it to the Red Sea and the surrounding "Peace Valley," whose creation President Shimon President and French President Nicolas Sarkozy intend to announce next week. But environmental organizations, led by Friends of the Earth-Middle East (FoEME), are fighting the project. They want it delayed for environmental studies of potential effects and other tests that, by their very nature, create obstacles and cause plans to languish in desk drawers.
The project's opponents are like a person who refuses to let his dying loved one undergo an operation because it will leave a scar. What kind of ecological damage do they fear, exactly? Are they worried that the Dead Sea's unique process of dehydration will be harmed? That the rare phenomenon of sinkholes will disappear? The water from the Red Sea could yield a renewed ecology there. But if a large protest movement mobilizes, this may never happen.
FoEME says the alternate possibility for rehabilitating the Dead Sea, of using sweet water from Lake Kinneret, is not being given seriously consideration. True. No one is also looking seriously into the possibility of moving the Dead Sea to a region with more rainfall, or of rechanneling the Danube in its direction. According to the estimates of the Geological Institute, it will take 850 million cubic meters of water a year simply to stop the decrease in the level of the sea. This is more than half of Israel's freshwater consumption. I wonder why the possibility of pouring it into the Dead Sea is not being seriously entertained.
Billionaire Yitzhak Tshuva wants to build lakes, hotels, a safari park and leisure activity areas along the Peace Valley. Opponents say the Arava is not a wilderness that needs to be brought to life, but rather an area whose landscape is unique and of worldwide importance. As if simply by phrasing matters in green-hued jargon, you can really convince anyone that the empty stretch of land between Eilat and the State of Israel is a landscape treasure that should not be touched. Or that it would be a wicked, harmful thing to dig lakes and build hotels and attract thousands of Israelis, along with who knows how many foreign tourists, to what is only a small part of this area.
The environmental groups have to adopt an entirely different starting point for their activities: not how to stop the canal, but how to encourage the project and carry it out with minimal environmental damage - to make it as harmonious, friendly to man and nature and non-destructive as possible. Otherwise it might seem that, like the ultra-Orthodox, there are some green groups that believe that all innovation is essentially forbidden. And we should also not forget that just as the real security zone between Israel and Egypt is the strip of hotels on the shores of Sinai, the Peace Canal will be the real security zone between Israel and Jordan. What truly preserves peaceful relations between countries is the sense that they have something to lose. Peace has many advantages, and among other things, it is marvelously green; the fires in the forests of the Galilee during the Second Lebanon War reminded us just how black war can be.
One of Israel's great problems in recent decades has been a fear of vision and of overly large enterprises. Vision brings hope and pride, both now sorely lacking in public life. The canal is an excellent opportunity to shatter our fear of vision, and to remind ourselves that we are just as skilled in developing as we are in destroying; that we can benefit our neighbors, and not only harm them; and that Israel itself is one megalomaniacal project that has proved to be a great success.
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