Adventure, but no treasure
Many legends have been associated with Lake Kinneret over the years, but now it turns out that at least one was true: Exactly 90 years ago the British army under the command of General Edmund Allenby sank a Turkish steamship that was carrying a crate of gold coins belonging to the Turkish army. It appears that the gold did not sink along with the ship, but whatever the case may be, there are now plans to make the area into a recreational diving site.
Researcher Yitzhaki Gal of the Lake Kinneret Authority does not see anything extraordinary in this story: "Every area of the country, and maybe of the whole world, has a story about a lost trove of golden coins. In the area of Lake Kinneret there are a number of sites where, according the local folklore, there are such hidden troves."
On September 25, 1918, during the British effort to liberate the northern part of the land of Israel from the Ottomans, General Allenby's cavalry arrived at the Zemach train station near the lake, and a tough battle ensued.
"There were also German soldiers at the station. The British cavalrymen arrived, dismounted and inside the station building a face-to-face battle was fought," relates Dr. Yigal Sheffy, a Tel Aviv University historian.
According to Gal, the story goes that when the Turks saw the English approaching, they loaded their army's cash box, in which there were gold coins used to pay the soldiers and officers, onto a Turkish ship called the Shariya, docked near Zemach. "The shipped steamed off in the direction of the northern shore of the Kinneret, but when it as near Sheikh Ali, close to the northeastern shore, it was attacked by a British plane that dropped bombs on it and it sank," he relates.
In an article in the El Hayam journal, the late maritime archaeologist Prof. Avner Raban wrote: "The ship set out from the Beit Saida anchorage in the northern part of Lake Kinneret toward Tiberias, but when the captain saw the British army had entered Tiberias, he tried to escape. A two-winged plane, which was on an intelligence patrol over the lake, saw the fleeing ship and attacked it ... The patrol's officer threw about 10 hand grenades from the crate between his knees. The ship was seen going down, and with it the treasure sank."
Over the years, many area inhabitants have tried to solve the mystery of its whereabouts. In 1958 Uzi Valish, a former army commando from Kibbutz Ginnosar, tried to dive to the ship.
Gal: "Valish sailed out to the area of the ship with his fisherman-father. He managed to get there, but when he wanted to come out, he didn't find the opening and was saved at the very last minute before his air gave out. People say the hair of his father, who was waiting anxiously for him, turned white all at once."
At the end of the 1989, at the University of Haifa, an orderly search for the remains of the ship was organized. A team of about 15 divers headed by Prof. Raban excavated the remains of the sunken vessel for two weeks, but only managed to pull out a few items, among them the ship's sign and some swords.
Thanks to the cleaning operation carried out then on the ship, it is possible today to allow divers to access the site without encountering the dangers that Valish experienced.
"It turns out that there is testimony from a farmer from Moshava Kinneret, who was ordered by the Turks to load the box of gold coins onto a cart and to take it from the military camp at Zemach to Lebanon," Gal says. "So actually, adventurers who dive there can't really expect to find the golden treasure."