My son David and I participated in H2O Tour 2018: A Tour on the Trail of Israel’s Water Solutions, a JNF-US-sponsored nine-day tour of Israel from December 10 to 17. Nineteen participants travelled from northern Galilee to southern Negev, gaining a comprehensive understanding of water and hydro resources of the country, trans-boundary issues, and the vision and dynamic of an ever-pioneering people of Israel to address their needs.
Our trip began in the northeast finger of the country bordering Lebanon and Syria, near the Syrian head-waters of Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) where we were introduced to the concerns that exist in a drought-stricken Middle East. We made stops in the Golan and southern part of Kinneret, continuing through the Gush Dan Region (Tel Aviv metropolitan area) and south to the Halutza Sands at the Gaza-Egypt border. From Jerusalem, we followed the Dead Sea route to the south end of the Central Arava, some 150 km from Eilat. Finally, at Sde Boker, we paid homage to the vision of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding prime minister.
In the north we visited the Sapir Pumping Station on the northeast shore of Kinneret which raises the water some 250 metres into the beginning of the National Water Carrier, which ultimately supplies filtered water into the deepest reaches of the Negev; a rainwater harvesting school system in Kfar Blum; the Shamir Drillings, a major example of the drillings into aquifers which significantly replenish shrinking freshwater resources; and an orchard utilizing Phyteck’s innovative plant sensors which monitor plant growth and use a micro-spray watering technique. We also paid a dusk visit to HaHula, where 120,000 common cranes pass on their migratory route, of which 50,000 winter in that protective environment.
In the Gush Dan Region we toured WaterGen, a global leader in water-from-air solutions; the Shafdan Wastewater Treatment Plant; and the Sorek Desalination Plant.
In semi-arid Jerusalem we spent time in HaGishon, where we learned how water was supplied from the National Water Carrier and desalination from the coastal plain, and the modern methodology involved in maintaining proper water and sewage in a growing region of over 800,000 people.
Leaving Jerusalem, we stopped at the potash and magnesium plant at the south basin of the Dead Sea and learned about transboundary water management involving Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.
South of Beersheba, we visited Netafim, the pioneer of drip and micro-irrigation, and then Halutza, of which I elaborate below.
In the Central Arava Region, we stopped at the Hatzeva reservoir, which dilutes brackish water and irrigates local fields, visited the Yair Agricultural R&D Centre in Hatzeva, met with students in a classroom of the Arava International Center for Agricultural Training, which educates and trains students from around the world through three different agricultural programs combining theoretical training with “Learning by Doing.” We finished our tour in the Bedouin town of Hura to see Project Wadi Attir, a progressive model for sustainable community-based agriculture, particularly suited to the pastoral strengths of Bedouin peoples of the Arava. A bonus visit was made to the SodaStream factory, recently acquired by PepsiCo, which employs 1,400 workers in the Idan HaNegev Industrial Park near Beersheba, many of whom are Negev Bedouins, making home soda water machines.
I have two special stories, among many, to tell.
From a group of Himalayan and Kenyan students in the “Learning by Doing” program, we heard they would not only take the knowledge they gained back to their countries, but they would also go home with earned money sufficient to seed funding for their own ventures. Some 20,000 students have passed through this school over the past 10 years.
B’nai Netzarim is one of the small communities that comprise Halutza, located in the dry, rocky landscape of southwestern Negev Desert in the tight triangle between Egypt and Gaza. Parashas Toledot (Genesis 26:17) mentions Gerar, the biblical valley in which Halutza is currently believed to be located: “And Isaac dug anew the wells of water which they had dug in the days of Abraham.” In 2005, some 30 families of the 8,000 Jewish settlers required to leave their Gaza communities when Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip, moved into this region. In the succeeding 13 years, they turned a dead empty desert landscape to one dotted with new communities, expansive solar fields, and large farm areas that bloom green during winter and spring. Yedidya Harush showed us how the B’nei Netzarim and neighbouring communities are flourishing with the establishment of organic vegetable farms, greenhouses, new housing sites, and various public facilities such as a state-of-the-art medical centre.
I believe we came away with a sense that despite the difficulties Israelis face harnessing the landscape and dealing with the politic of the region, we were repeatedly met with their strength of purpose and depth of vision, accompanied by a high degree of innovation and risk-taking – all directed to developing the resources of the land and to living peaceful and purposeful lives. We also experienced their willingness to extend knowledge and experience to people living in arid regions of the world. We viewed many examples of how funds raised in Canada, the U.S. and internationally by the Jewish National Fund plays a primary role in initiating and developing these projects.