All of a Sudden



Something's definitely up at The New York Times. I wrote a few weeks ago about the fact that the paper's travel section hadn't written about Israel as a splendid destination for intrepid tourists for so long I'd forgotten when the last time was. I said it had to be years ago, perhaps in the 1990s, once the Oslo peace accords had been signed and the world seemed to ease up on the country a little.

In fact, I brazenly said, I could count on the fingers of one hand the occasions in the last 10 years when the paper, in any of its many departments — whether we're talking about the daily incarnation or the massive Sunday edition — has spoken favorably in any way about Israel. I added that I might not even be able to use up all the fingers on that one hand.

This was all said as prelude to the fact that something positive did occur in the Nov. 5 travel section of the Times. It was just a small item on Page 4, a quirky little piece about a quirky little neighborhood in Tel Aviv called Neve Tzedek, located behind the city's beachfront hotels. The author was Sarah Wildman.

Well, a reader who said that he was also always looking for positive viewpoints on Israel in the pages of the Times contacted me by e-mail and included a link to a piece that appeared in the paper of record just more than a year ago about spas in Israel. And it wasn't a small item; it covered a full page and a sizable jump. Wildman happened to be the author of that piece, too.

I stand corrected, of course. But as if to prove me even more incorrect and limited in my observations, the Science Times section of Jan. 2 published a wonderful piece, filled with all sorts of marvelous detail, on fish farming in Israel. The author this time was Dina Kraft, and the story was a tribute to the breadth and depth of Israeli ingenuity — literally.

"Fish farming in the desert may at first sound like an anomaly," wrote Kraft, "but in Israel over the last decade a scientific hunch has turned into a bustling business.

"Scientists here say they realized they were on to something when they found that brackish water drilled from underground desert aquifers hundreds of feet deep could be used to raise warm-water fish. The geothermal water, less than one-tenth as saline as sea water, free of pollutants and a toasty 98 degrees on average, proved an ideal match.

" 'It was not simple to convince people that growing fish in the desert makes sense,' said Samuel Appelbaum, a professor and fish biologist at the Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert Research at the Sede Boqer campus of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.

" 'It is important to stop the reputation that arid land is nonfertile, useless land,' said Professor Appelbaum, who pioneered the concept of desert aquaculture in Israel in the late 1980s. 'We should consider arid land where subsurface water exists as land that has great opportunities, especially in food production because of the low level of competition on the land itself and because it gives opportunities to its inhabitants.' "


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