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The State is 70, Mekorot is 80

The State is 70, Mekorot is 80

​Last year, the State of Israel celebrated 70 years since its establishment, while Mekorot celebrated 80 years since its establishment. It is hard to exaggerate the indispensability of Mekorot’s work – the State of Israel’s older sister – in building the country and in establishing the young state. Since its inception, Mekorot has been an inseparable part of the Zionist vision. Mekorot’s activities are so involved in the development of Israel’s water sector that it seems that its name has become synonymous with “water” in Israel. Levi Eshkol's youngest daughter, Ofra Nevo-Eshkol, spoke about the circumstances that led to the establishment of Mekorot: “In Degania Bet, the story was told that during the first days of the group, Giladi and Eshkol used to travel in a cart pulled by mules to bring barrels of water from the Jordan. One day they got tired of doing this and said: ‘We have to do something. We must set up a pump and a pipe. The the only question is how to do this.’ The two involved the engineer Simcha Blass in their problem... and following the consultation they brought a pump and a pipe to Degania, and so Mekorot was founded. 

In the summer of 1948, shortly after the establishment of the State of Israel, at the height of the siege of Jerusalem, Mekorot was assigned a national mission known as Operation Siloam: a makeshift water pipeline stretching over 20 kilometers was laid within 30 days and brought water of life to the thirsty city, thus ensuring the ability to withstand the siege. This operation was discussed at length at a meeting of the Provisional Government of the State of Israel. At this meeting, the members of the nascent State’s parliament recognized the value of this enterprise, which, apart from the fact that it was supplying water to the Jews of Jerusalem, it was creating a connection between the State of Israel and Jerusalem. The pipeline connected the Jewish settlement with Jerusalem, and created facts on the ground, which laid the foundation for  Israel's status as a state.

The national heroes all recognized the unbreakable connection between the issue of water in Israel and building the nation, and on Mekorot’s part, in particular, in establishing the Jewish community in the Land of Israel. David Ben-Gurion, the head of the leadership of the “state in the making”, who was leading and pushing for the establishment of the State of Israel and the one who declared its establishment, constantly referred to the vital development of water resources in Israel. Thus, for example, he said that “the need for additional water sources is not only essential, but crucial for Israel”; and of course, his famous is saying that: “If we don't eliminate the desert, the desert may eliminate the State.” Amazingly, David Ben-Gurion even foresaw the desalination of seawater, at a time when only a few believed that this was possible in practice. He said: “The great task that Jewish science has to fulfill is to discover a cheap and practical process for distilling seawater, which can be used to irrigate the arid lands of the Negev. ... irrigation of the desert with refined seawater will be seen today by many as a fantasy; however, Israel must be less afraid of ‘delusions’ than any other country because they could change the order of the beginning [Bereshit] through the power of vision and science and pioneering ability. All that there is in this country is the fruit of ‘delusions’ that have been realized by the force of the triple alliance of: vision, science and pioneering skills.”

During his term as Israel’s Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Moshe Sharett said that “the history of Jewish settlement in Israel is first and foremost a story of searching, discovering and exploiting new sources of water”. Yitzhak Rabin, who later became Prime Minister of the State of Israel, said about himself that: “I did not think of my future in terms of the military, and even later, when I completed my studies at Kadouri in 1940, I decided to study water engineering. I believed then that the water problem would be the most difficult problem of the Land of Israel”. In his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1994, he said: “I thought a water engineer was an important profession in the arid Middle East, and I still think so today, but I had to hold a rifle”.

In the Knesset debate in 1961, Mekorot was authorized as the National Water Authority. In this debate, Knesset Member Amos Degani said the following: “With Mekorot’s water pipes, the Jews settled in the Negev; the first pipe that was laid in the 1930s in the western Jezreel Valley opened the door to Jewish settlement in the Jezreel Valley, and we are very proud of this”.

The same pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit has always been the backbone of Mekorot, alongside engineering and professional capabilities that have become more sophisticated with each and every project. Mekorot’s first engineer, Simcha Blass, demonstrated this spirit on countless opportunities. For example, he said, “Our national water plan is based on ... the strength and will of a people, stricken and persecuted throughout its history, to regain its land and to find freedom and peace. Without this spiritual force, it is difficult to understand the efforts and power devoted to building the Land of Israel and to developing its water resources”;  and “there are enterprises [for water] in the world that have important functions, which are mainly to increase the standard of living of a poor population. However, our task is to create a home for the homeless and to settle a nation that is tired of wandering”.

Mekorot’s achievements are particularly prominent against the backdrop of a long history of water problems in the Land of Israel. In fact, the water problem in the Land of Israel is as ancient as the land itself, and Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation, had already encountered this problem. One of the wells he dug was situated in a city that is now called Be’er Sheva, after the well that was found there. Many of the wells dug by Abraham’s servants were destroyed by their enemies at that time, the Philistines. Isaac continued his father’s work: “And Isaac dwelt there, and he dug the water wells which they had dug in the days of Abraham his father, and the Philistines came to an end after the death of Abraham ... and the servants of Isaac dug in the stream; and there they found a well, water of life.” (Genesis 26: 18-19). One of the wells was called Rehovot, after which the city of Rehovot is named, which is in the center of the State of Israel today.

The centrality of water in the life of the settlement in Israel can be seen from the following custom: The first settlements established in the Land of Israel would record not only the day of their establishment on the land but also the day on which water was found. Many experts claimed that there was no water in this country, and that for this reason it would not be possible to expand  settlement.

The projects for which Mekorot has been responsible in its 80 years of existence are numerous and complex. We will only mention here the monumental project of Mekorot, the National Water Carrier, which is also the largest and most magnificent water project of the State of Israel. Construction of the National Water Carrier marked the completion of the construction of the national water system, which Mekorot was charged with developing and building in previous years, thanks to the knowledge and experience it had accumulated until then in the development of the water sector in Israel. Levi Eshkol called it “the pillars of  Israel’s water lifeline”, and Simcha Blass called it the “spinal cord” of the water system of the State of Israel. At the President’s Residence, in honor of Mekorot’s 70th anniversary, Shimon Peres said the following: “The National Water Carrier is the largest and most ambitious national initiative  of the State of Israel in the early days, without which the map of the settlements would not have been the same as it is today… Since then, Mekorot has stamped its mark in every corner of the country.”

Mekorot is never stagnant and it never rests on its laurels. Today, in the second decade of the 21st century, when Mekorot is now 80 years old, the main challenges that have accompanied the company since its inception have changed. The most fundamental change can be attributed to the entry into the era of desalination, in which the quantity of water has ceased to be a limiting factor. The “delusion” of seawater desalination, as predicted by David Ben-Gurion, has become a reality, thanks to the incessant innovativeness of Mekorot and its courage to “fantasize”. About fifty years after the inauguration of the National Water Carrier, Mekorot established the New National Water Carrier, a national project and one of the largest infrastructure projects established in Israel in recent years. This was a huge undertaking that could extricate Israel from the ongoing water crisis and allow a smooth entry into the era of desalination. To bestow on Israel, transversely through large water pipelines, the ability to receive desalinated water and to convey it to the National Water System, is no less than a revolution in the Israeli water industry. Its construction involved a change in thinking; changing the historical perception of the flow of water supplied in the country – no longer only from north to south but from west to east and in other directions. Today, thanks to the New National Water Carrier, most domestic water consumption in Israel is based on desalinated water, and for the first time it will be possible to start rehabilitating Israel’s natural water reservoirs and repaying the “debt” to nature – that was created as a result of the continuous years of drought – for present and future generations. Its construction constitutes another step in building the economic and security independence of the State of Israel. Integration of the desalinated water into the national water system through the New National Water Carrier, on the one hand, reflects Mekorot’s logistical, engineering and managerial capabilities, while, on the other hand, it reflects the technological and innovative achievements in the management and control of a modern water economy.

Proof of the fact that thinking about the future has characterized Mekorot from the time it was founded, is that already 80 years ago Mekorot conceived the Fifth System for Jerusalem. This huge system, which is currently under construction, is expected to be completed in 2021. This system will be connected to the New National Carrier. The current project is expected to increase consumption to four times the capacity of existing systems, and to provide solutions to these areas in the coming decades. Simultaneously with this mega-project, Mekorot is also working on many projects throughout the country, from north to south, and other projects are planned for the future, based on projections of Israel’s water needs in the future. Mekorot is as determined as always to justify the mandate bestowed on it by the State of Israel and by the Israeli public, as the executive arm of the Government of Israel in the field of water infrastructure and as the flagship of the water industry in Israel.