The Israel Trail, week 1: the Upper Galilee for beginners

November 15, 2014

The Upper Galilee doesn’t hold pity for those who walk it. It’s face is scarred with shoe loving rocks and trees that will gladly reach for your bag. However, it also holds a blissful abundance. Each day of the trail is worthy of a story, but Wadi Amud has left a very powerful mark. In spite of having hiked it in the past, somehow I underestimated its force and grandeur.

_MG_8327 Once you hike down from Meron and walk into the creek’s ravin, its upper part starts very gently, with pools to wade in and waterfalls to photograph. An easy and pleasant walk in the shade of the terebinths and the Oriental Plane Trees slowly turns into a difficult and challenging walk. The wide gorge turns into a canyon: the paths, paved with local chiselled stones, turn into a climb where you have to hold on to rocks and branches to keep going.

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However, when you pause for a second and look around, you notice the abundance I mentioned before, as it can’t be ignored: Pomegranate trees, olives and figs, carobs, hyssop and countless medicinal plants, flowing water teeming with fish. No wonder that all along the trail there are signs of life from other eras: in the 16th century, jews expelled from Spain applied new technology for processing wool by fulling it. The fulling mills established along the creek contributed to making Safed the financial capital of the Galilee and one of the world’s main fabric manufacturers. Over the years, 18 flour mills were built along the creek’s upper part, some of which were used until the beginning of the 20th century. This is the largest concentration of flour mills ever found in Israel.

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The creek is even more unique because of the findings in its caves: the largest humanoid skull ever found was discovered in the Zuttiyeh cave and it’s considered to belong to a species that was a transition between the Neanderthal and the modern Homo Sapience.

One of the things I find myself doing over and over again is imaging how everything looked before we harnessed nature to our needs- when water still flowed in natural river beds and trees and bushes supplied all our needs. Wadi Amud, this deep scar in the landscape around it, was probably heaven to this “Galilee man” that lived in the cave.

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The trail is long and we left it right before the evening set. When it did, nature regained hold of the place: the manmade noises dimmed and faded as chirping, howling and rustling took over the space. Swallows were leaving the Amud cave for their aerial stunts while in the background jackals howled to the crescent moon; the insect feeding microbats squeaked their sonars right over our heads, hunting annoying bugs with considerable virtuosity. For a moment, with no cars, lights and modernity, we were that “Galilee Man” that lived there about 300,000 years ago. Beyond sight and hearing, we’ve actually felt what nature should be or could be in the Amud reserve.

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In light of this realization, I could actually appreciate the massive road work being done under route 65, in spite of the disturbance to the landscape and visitors. In the 70′s a huge dirt mound was placed there in order to pave the road, without taking into consideration the environmental impact it may have. Who knew? After all, it was a time when people still thought smoking is cool, that eating meat and dairy is good for you, and made asbestus roofs. The mound was critically destructive to the creek- it disturbed the water flow, cut off wildlife populations and effectively disconnected the lower part of the creek from the top part. Now, along with broadening the road, the National Roads Company of Israel and the Committee  for National Infrastructure, which are in charge of the project, decided to bring down the mound in spite of the immense cost and right the wrong.

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Oddly enough, this brought forth my frustration with Israel. Why? Since we can’t really suspect our governmental companies with being too concerned about ecology and wildlife wellbeing. This act, of putting so much into an environmental project (and not a military project or anything that has to do with “national security”), testifies to the obvious: where there’s a will, there’s a way. Here’s my hypothesis: someone influential realised what was the right thing to do, put his foot down and made it happen. The right, obvious, moral and ecologically-sound thing happened. Would any Israeli expect that? Would any Israeli expect any governmental body to do anything that doesn’t fall into its people’s interests or “national security” needs? I think this is one of the things that make me most furious- I truly believe there’s a high rate of talented, intelligent and sophisticated people here. but the ruling norms are wrong: “Me first. Then my family and associates and the hell with everything else. To do the work I’m paid for? Only if I have to- I’m no sucker!”

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Due to construction work, this pipe is a hikers’ paths between the upper Wadi Amud and the lower part.

It all starts with the higher ups: we no longer have any expectations from our politicians. They steal, they cheat, they lie, they only do for their own. And us? We keep voting them in. We keep saying “there’s nothing to do” and “that’s the way it is”. We accept all the crap they shove in our faces and get mad at anyone that dares to claim there is a different way and that it’s actually not the way it works everywhere else. As long as our solution is going with the flow and only taking care of our own; to steal, cheat and lie to make it because that’s what everybody does, instead of rising up and screaming that that’s not how you build a country or a society- as long as this doesn’t happen- Israel will stay the way it is.

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