An ancient olive tree (Olea europaea) in the arid Garden of Gethsemane outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

The possibility of a 10 day pilgrimage to the Holy Land in November was an opportunity not to be overlooked. The compost in Trevor’s Kitchen Garden needs to be dug out of the composter and the space refilled with the kitchen scraps and garden debris, but that can wait a week or two. In contrast to Ireland, Israel is 60% desert. Desert is defined as areas with less than 20cm of rain per annum. In 1964, the Israeli government built a National Water Transporter system to pipe water from the famous Sea of Galilee to other regions. This body of water is really a fresh water lake, 22km (13 mls) long by 12 km (7 mls) wide and lying about 210m (675 ft) below sea level. The River Jordan which feeds the Sea of Galilee and flows on south to the Dead Sea, is now no more than a stream. The water shortages and costs of purifying and transporting drinking water add hugely to tensions between the peoples of that troubled land. While there, a miracle occurred, in other words, it rained! All the locals applauded, cheered and danced around. It could have been a scene from the film classic ‘Singing in the Rain’. I find it hard to understand therefore when staying in the Negev Desert with the Bedouins, the wash hand basins had no stoppers. Likewise the hotel in Netanyah on the coast had no stopper to conserve water use. The Israeli government is now, I understand, examining the idea of desalinating sea water, a very very expensive and energy intensive process … and the result is distasteful to drink from my experience staying in Cuba and having to drink desalinated water some years ago.

Amnesty International has highlighted how vindictive actions by the Israeli military are periodically wrecking the agricultural irrigation systems of Palestinians along the West Bank. When I put this to Israelis, they highlight that water is scarce and requires a permit which costs money. No permit, no water! It is no wonder the peace process is fraught with tension. More resourceful Palestinian farmers have dug cisterns to collect any rainwater they can. These are independent of state water distribution, yet Amnesty reports that these private cisterns are being destroyed by the Israeli military too. When will the penny drop that disrespect for fresh water supplies is a recipe for more tension, misery and insecurity?  For more information check out www.amnesty.ie or write, as I did, to Professor Uri Shani, the Head of the Israel Water Authority. 

Only the most drought resistent plants survive in this drought prone landscape. Hence this is the land of olives, dates, figs and pomegranates. The Garden of Gethsemane where Jesus Christ prayed in desperation as he faced torture and crucifixion is still full of ancient olive trees at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Inside the nearby walls of old Jerusalem, the stall holders sell colourful fruit and vegetables. However the water upon which this produce relies to grow is not guaranteed in the years to come.

The unsustainable abstraction of water from the River Jordan (or rivulet really) for irrigation is leaving little more than a trickle to reach the Dead Sea. The water level is there going down by a metre per annum. The Dead Sea is now 426 m below sea level, and falling. The east side of the Dead Sea is in Jordan, another very drought prone country. I returm from the Holy Land appreciating rain, and conscious of the need to manage the resources of rain and fresh water.  Peace can only reign when the rain is respected and water is allocated in a just and sustainable way.

Now back to the kitchen garden greenhouse at home where those mizuna plants need a small sup from the watering can.


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