Wednesday, August 23, 2006
Israeli taxpayers pay to re-create malarial swamp as Disneyland Swamp
An Australian blog has a note titled: "Australian taxpayers pay to re-create a swamp". So what? Here in Israel we are paying through our noses to recreate the Hula swamp, I mean to create an idealized version of that putrid malarial swamp, i.e. a clean sterile secure Disneyland recreational plastic swamp ohne mosquitoes. Our neo-pseudo-swamp is ready and can be visited (the entrance ticket costs 15 US$, double on holidays). The infrared air picture shows the nice sqare form of our altneu-swamp.
The transformation of the Hula swamp into agricultural land was an epic Zionist enterprise at the beginning of the last century. Thousands of fanatical pioneers died digging mud channels to drain the fetid water, and thousands lived their lifes with recurrent attacks of debilitating "kadahat" - the malarial fever. The Hula became a productive agricultural center in the water rich Northern Israel, allowing the establishment of the a Jewish nucleus in the Arab Lower Galilee. It was an historical enterprise of Zionist sacrifice and conquest of the land. The area became truely habitable only in the fifties, with the invention of that wonder chemical, the DDT.
But now we live in the Post-Zionist era and the peopling of the Hula wasteland is considered not only a historical injustice against the natives (which were absent, but that is beside the point) but also a crime against Nature itself. Only restoring the swamp to its proper owners - the papirus plant, the frog, the snake, the bird - we may return to a state of peace and harmony with the universe. In the nineties, a large budget was assigned to this engineering project of trascendent spiritual dimension, and even my humble self may have added his grain of sand to the design. Generous water quotas were budgeted to allow for evaporation (and consequent salination of Israel's water resources) and evapotranspiration by its tropical wetland vegetation.
The problem Israeli do-gooders faced then was to define what they wanted. Not one of the idealists who made all this possible knew what a swamp was, how it looked and how it worked. It was out of question to recolonize the swamp with Anopheles spp., venomous frogs and snakes and other un-Disneylander thingies, notwithstanding their standing as ancestral citizens of Natureland. The idea they had in mind is some kind of Disneyland swamp, with boats and cute singing birdies and well-trimmed bright-green hybrid grass lawns. The rotting organic material would have to be disinfected and hidden from sight, and the methane gas collected and burned to generate green electricity at extremely expensive but ecologically correct installations.
Small problems appeared and were solved. The reintroduced birds did not sing as expected, so hidden loudspeakers had to be installed. Exotic plants invaded and had to be "controlled" by mechanical mowing. Mycocastor coypus (nutria), an exotic South American rodent, became feral. It grazed delicate aquatic plants such as Myriophyllum spictum, Utricularia australis and Nymphaea alba. Hundreds are hunted and killed each year. Voles also caused damage to crops that were artificially cultivated to feed the buffaloes, especially to alfalfa. The solution was poisoning and the introduction of common barn owls in cages.
Reintroduced fish were eaten by ugly American mud fish, which grew to monstrous sizes. Frogs refused to return, so their extermination was invented. Maize and other crops are grown in un-de-swamped areas to feed migratory birds and walkways were asphalted with useful photo-opportunity stations. I visited the place with the children when great bird migrations were announced, and bought nice plastic made-in-China souvenirs in the Company for the Defense of Nature's shop.
The girls felt good about the excursion. Those bad people had destroyed the SWAMP and exiled Bambi and his little friends. But good people had restored it. We Israelis love our swamp.