As Israel's water crisis deepens and dry winters become more prevalent, Israelis are no longer taking their largest freshwater lake, the Kinneret, for granted. Suddenly it seems, the entire country listens daily to hear how the "red line" of the lake is holding, how many centimeters it has gone up or down in any 24-hour period, and what the country can do to preserve this landmark.
The Kinneret has been valued for as long as humans have inhabited the area. The earliest human remains found in Israel were excavated nearby, and the many artifacts of ancient civilizations discovered in the area attest to its importance as a center of civilizations throughout the course of history. It is located in the Jordan Rift Valley, where the African and Arabian plates meet. The Egyptian Via Maris, the passageway from Egypt to its Northern Kingdoms, passed by. The lake is mentioned in the Old Testament (in the Books of Numbers and Joshua) as the Kinneret - it is believed that the name is derived from the Hebrew word for harp, a "kinor".
As history progressed, the lake became an important area for early Christianity. Jesus is believed to have conducted a large portion of his ministry at the Lake, which the Christians call the Lake of Gennesaret. Christians believe that the Sermon on the Mount occurred at the shores of the Kinneret, as well the miracle of Jesus walking on water and feeding the multitudes. Years later, the Crusaders battled for control of the lake because of its importance to Christianity, and a number of well-known churches were built along its shores.
An Important Landmark for Jews and Christians
When Jews were expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans after they revolted, many fled to the area around the Kinneret, building up the fledging town of Tiberias. This population included a large number of the great rabbis of the times, who wrote the Jerusalem Talmud along the shores of the Kinneret. Tiberias continued to maintain a small Jewish community throughout the centuries, and when Jewish settlement was revived in Israel in the late 1800s, the area around Lake Kinneret was one of the first places that the Zionist movement began agricultural endeavors in Israel. The first kibbutzim, communal settlements, were established along the lake's shores.
The Lake's location in the Jordan Rift valley makes it a earthquake-prone area, and it has been the scene of several severe earthquakes which have destroyed Tiberias, including, reportedly, twice by a tsunami which swelled from the lake and covered the city. In recent years, the lake has been the source of great tension between Israel and Syria; the 1948 Israeli borders gave control of the Eastern shore of the Kinneret to Syria, but after repeated acts of aggression, Israel captured the Golan Heights during the Six-Day War of 1967, and this included the entire lake shore. Control of the lake is a crucial question in any peace negotiations between Israel and Syria, since neither country is prepared to relinquish control of this vital water source.
Today, the Kinneret continues to provide a healthy fishing and recreational industry for the area. Israel's government and people must learn to appreciate and conserve this resource, which can benefit the nation for many centuries to come.