Israel's new eco-pioneers

ECONOMIC priorities change with the times in Israel just like anywhere else. But rarely have they been turned on their head as dramatically as in the Hula valley, near the Sea of Galilee.

Forty years ago, draining the Hula valley was one of the backbreaking, pioneering tasks that the young state of Israel undertook as part of its agricultural revolution. More cultivable land meant more food. But in the 1990s, agriculture is not where it's at. Ecology is where it's at, and the prospect of a $20 million tourist facility that will turn more bucks than potatoes ever could.

So this week Agriculture Minister Yaacov Tsur breached a dam, the waters flowed, and a major project to re-flood the Hula valley began. The government's plan is to reintroduce as much of the original flora and fauna as possible, to attract eco-tourists and revitalize the regional economy with a flood of visitors.

``We can't talk about correcting a mistake,'' Mr. Tsur said of the $20 million project. ``We need to recognize that as we progress, we should talk less about `conquering the land' and more about working in harmony with it.''

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