Women in Bastan Village, Kurdistan

Saturday, October 2, 2010

(Un) Holy Water and some facts you should know

On Thursday, I woke up early to head to my next destination: Tiberias. Tiberias is a city on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Lower Galilee, Israel. Established in 20 CE, it was named in honor of the emperor Tiberius a town in the Galilee. Much of the ministry of Jesus occurred on the shores of Lake Galilee. The gospels describe how Jesus recruited four of his apostles from the shores of Lake Galilee: the fishermen Simon and his brother Andrew and the brothers John and James. One of Jesus' famous teaching episodes, the Sermon on the Mount, is supposed to have been given on a hill overlooking the lake. Many of his miracles are also said to have occurred here including his walking on water, calming the storm, and his feeding five thousand people (in Tabgha). The first-century historian Flavius Josephus was so impressed by the area that he wrote, "One may call this place the ambition of Nature." Josephus also reported a thriving fishing industry at this time, with 230 boats regularly working in the lake.

Locals and Others enjoying the "Beach"

Lake Kinneret is the largest freshwater lake (yes, LAKE) in Israel, and it is approximately 53 km (33 miles) in circumference, about 21 km (13 miles) long, and 13 km (8 miles) wide. The lake has a total area of 166 km², and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m (141 feet). At 209 meters below sea level, it is the lowest freshwater lake on Earth and the second-lowest lake in the world (after the Dead Sea, a saltwater lake). The lake is fed partly by underground springs although its main source is the Jordan River which flows through it from north to south.

Views from a cemetery, where I stopped to take a break from my biking mission

More views from another beach....

I rented a bike and went to the south, bordering the lake for about 9 km. I visited the site where Jesus was believed to be baptized; it is called the Yardenit, in the Jordan River. It was very quiet in the beginning. Some people were swimming in the river. I sat there for a while, to rest from my unprecedented biking marathon (at least for me it was). I was observing the people and the power of people’s faith. Some come to be baptized for the first time and some to renew their baptism.

A group renewing their baptism in the Jordan River

View from the Jordan River

More views of Lake Kinneret/Sea of Galilee

I want to include a little here on the geopolitics of the Jordan River. The information is taken from a report by Palestine Hydrology Group from 2007/2008: “Water for Life”. The Jordan River is a vital natural resource in the region that extends over 300 km from its headwaters at the Golan Heights all the way down to the Dead Sea. The Jordan River is the embodiment of a large web of tributaries originating in Lebanon and Syria. It descends southwards pouring water into Lake Hula (drained by Israel and used as agricultural land), Lake Tiberias and finally the Dead Sea. Today the recession of the Dead Sea attests to the human caused ecological catastrophe inflicted on the Jordan River due to the over-exploitation of its water. Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria have contributed to the current water level decrease by the extensive abstraction and/or diversion of flow from Tiberias, Yarmouth River , Hasbani and Banias respectively through the installation of dams and catchment reservoirs. However, Israel’s excessive exploitation of the Jordan Basin is unquestionably the chief cause of its current depletion and pollution. Despite the fact that over 90% of the Jordan Basin fall within the borders of neighboring Arab countries, Israel currently abstracts around 58.33% of its water, while Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine have the following abstraction rates: 25.76%, 12.12%, 0.38%b and 0% respectively. (NWC, 2005)

Me just soaking my feet in the Jordan River after thoughtful analysis.....

With the occupation of the West bank and the Gaza Strip, Palestinians lost all shares of the Jordan River even though the whole of the east aquifer falls within the borders of the West Bank. It is estimated that only 3% of the Jordan River’s Basin falls within Israel’s pre-1967 borders. Prior to this Israeli seizure of the basin waters, Palestinian farmers relied on it in supplying their agricultural needs. The Applied Research Institute-Jerusalem (ARIJ) estimates that the annual consumption prior to the occupation reached 30Mcm through the pumping of 150 wells, which were immediately destroyed or taken over in the first days of the occupation.

So, knowing this information, and the level of pollution of the river, it lost its magic a little bit for me. I just immersed my feet and that was it. I enjoyed observing the people and the rituals and the faith with which they came. I wish the Israeli government could put some facts like this around the site, so people knew what is really going on in this “Holy Place” where they come with so much illusion. They could also do it in Jerusalem, to put some facts about house demolitions and house evictions, so the pilgrims that come from all over the world also left with some sense of the real situation and the facts on the ground.

Coming back into Tiberias after 18 km....I am proud that I am still alive

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