A rare commodity: Good news from Israel

By Robert Sarner, Detroit Jewish News, April 4, 2003

Quick. Name the most important good news story in Israel so far in 2003. I mean really good news. Not some cheerful human-interest item. Not some isolated, local drama with a happy ending. We're talking here a major story with far-reaching positive consequences for the entire nation; An unexpected story free of security worries, political wrangling and diplomatic fallout; A story that transcends Israel's deep ideological, religious and economic divisions. In short, a non-partisan story of vital significance to the country and welcomed by every Israeli. Sound impossible?

Here's a hint: It's something that's been taking shape in recent months and has gotten even better as of late. It's something the government had nothing to do with and that nobody, not even the experts, predicted.

Stumped? Perfectly understandable. Who associates good news with Israel lately? For a quite a while now, the news from here has been bad, depressing, tragic and variations thereof. Israelis themselves would be hard-pressed if asked to cite major events or developments that qualify as really good news.

You might say we specialize in problems. You name it, we've got it: Continuing Palestinian terrorist atrocities; record unemployment and dire poverty; a dysfunctional political system; an economy in tatters and getting worse; rampant labor unrest; a decimated tourist industry; worsening regional tensions; and to top it off, the country is increasingly congested and polluted.

As if Israelis didn't have enough to worry about, the army is on high alert for fear the current war in Iraq may lead Saddam Hussein to attack Israel, possibly with chemical weapons.

Amid such adversity, the most positive development in recent months has been largely overlooked. And yet it's a rare story that literally all Israelis - Jewish and Arab, secular and religious, veteran Israelis and new immigrants, rich and poor, Ashkenazi and Sephardic, left wingers and right wingers, urban dwellers and rural residents - unanimously welcome and should rejoice over.

Still at a loss to guess what it is? Drum roll, please.

The best news in Israel this year is that its main source of drinking water has been mostly replenished thanks to a record rainfall over the past three months. In a country with only one major body of fresh water - Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) - and where it usually only rains between October and April, this is magnificent news.

By late fall, after years of severe drought, the Kinneret had reached a dangerously low level, creating the most severe water crisis in Israel's history. The receding Kinneret had become a shadow of itself, and in the process became a disturbing symbol of the country's sad state of affairs.

As recently as December, hydrologists were lamenting the dearth of rain. Meteorologists said there was little on the horizon in the new year that would ease the water crisis substantially. But in a near miraculous turnaround this winter, the skies opened repeatedly, with torrential rains causing the Kinneret to rise more than four meters. And the good news is not over yet.

With more rain this month and the continuing strong flow into the lake from the Jordan River and streams leading down from the Golan Heights, the lake will rise even further. Clearly, 2003 is on course to break the record for the biggest rise in the Kinneret in one season.

"With all the melting snow from Mount Hermon and perhaps more rain in the coming weeks, we're optimistic the Kinneret will go up one more meter, which would be fantastic," Uri Schor of the Water Commissioner's Office said in late March. "There's no doubt that this has been a season of bountiful rainfall that has rescued the Kinneret and, we hope, helped improve the severely depleted state of the coastal and mountain aquifers.

Ironically, this comes just when the United Nations is warning that the world is about to face a major water crisis. According to a new study, published at the World Water Forum in Japan two weeks ago, the earth's water problem is already daunting and will get even worse in the coming years. The reasons: population growth, climatic change, pollution and mismanagement of one of nature's most vital resources.

Although this winter's heavy rains are a blessing, the country must still address its water issue more seriously. In terms of the big picture, the massive precipitation of recent months is only a reprieve, not a solution to a fundamental problem. So much for the good news from Israel.

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