5 things about Egypt, Israel, freedom, and water

1) Two weeks into the uprising in Egypt I feel that as an outsider I understand much less than I thought I did a week ago. The two on-line friends in Egypt I had tried to reach got back to me after Internet service was restored and thanked me for my concern. They did not elaborate on the situation.

If Egypt now has a free press, that is certainly a positive outcome. But it is hard to know what else to wish for the people; as in any country, they have many different views of what is best for them.

One thing is certain: Egypt—like Israel—lives on tourism, and tourism requires stability. As the wife of a tour guide, I am keenly aware of this link. Pundits say that economics is a large factor in the unrest in Egypt; but as long as the unrest continues, tourists will stay away and the economic situation can only get worse.

2) As Jews we have a tendency to measure every world event by how it affects us—and then, especially if it’s terrifying, to try to laugh about it. So it’s not surprising that an “Egypt-and-the-Jewish-question” joke (which I can’t imagine any Egyptian will find funny) is already making the rounds by e-mail:

Dear Egypt,
Please don’t destroy the pyramids. We won’t rebuild.
Regards,
The Jews

3) Every Passover we remember that we were slaves in Egypt. The Egyptians, however, don’t necessarily remember history that way.

In 1967 I had an Egyptian neighbor in Cambridge, Massachusetts. On Passover I brought him and his wife a jar of haroseth I had made and then proceeded to explain about the holiday and the significance of that sweet concoction. He just looked at me aghast. “It can’t be,” he said.

That difference between national narratives didn’t affect our friendship, however, and two months later the Six Day War forged an even closer bond between us: Our countries were at war with each other, but we were both far from home and desperate for information about our family and friends.

4) The Torah commands us, “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, having been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9).

Some Israelis take that injunction to heart. One of them is Keren Tal, the principal of the Bialik-Roghozin School in Tel Aviv, most of whose 376 pupils are the children of migrant workers or asylum seekers. Of those 376, 120 live under threat of deportation and the remainder are awaiting decisions regarding their status.

Three of those children are the subject of the film Strangers No More, by Karen Goodman and Kirk Simon, which has been nominated for an Oscar in the documentary (short subject) category. Watch for it at the Academy awards ceremony February 27. 

5) Much of Israel is arid, and the level of the Sea of Galilee, the national reservoir, keeps dropping. Drought is an ever-present threat, but the lake’s receding shoreline has provided one boon: the discovery in 1986 of a 2,000-year-old boat dubbed the “Jesus Boat,” which after being restored became a major tourist attraction at the Adam Bagalil (Man in Galilee) Museum in Kibbutz Nof Ginosar, on the lake’s northwestern shore http://www.ginosar.co.il/en/village/attraction.cfm.

Now, after years of talking about the need to maintain Israel’s water supply, the cabinet has approved an emergency plan to increase the production of desalinated water by operating desalination facilities around the clock. By 2013, Israel should be producing 420 million cubic meters of water—more than is drawn annually from the Sea of Galilee. The cabinet will also consider the construction of another desalination plant.

One financial blogger recommends looking at water as an investment commodity. “Things that are in high demand and low supply often create wealth in the market,” he writes. What a lovely thought.

Meanwhile, the price of water in Israel rose 33 percent in 2010, ostensibly to reduce consumption. Who felt the hike most? Those with the least income, of course, and not the investors making money from the privatization of what should be a national resource.

Text copyright 2011 by Esther Hecht. No part of the text may be used without written permission of the author.

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