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Simon Peter would be hopping mad. James and John, the thunderous sons of Zebedee, would be breathing fire. Andrew, perhaps, might be trying in vain to calm their troubled waters: fishing has been banned in the Sea of Galilee. Catch a boat load of fish there now and it will be more than a miracle — it’ll be a crime.

Israeli officials cited diminishing populations of fish as they banned fishing in Lake Kinneret, as it’s called in Israel, for two years. Stocks of tilapia, sold to tourists as “St. Peter’s fish,” have declined sharply in recent years. As a result, fishermen have resorted to more intensive (and illegal) methods such as poisoning the water, fishing in spawning areas, and using nets with an increasingly finer weave, said the agriculture ministry.

Following the ban, the fishermen who run the 70 registered fishing boats on the lake will have to find other work, convert their fishing vessels into tour boats, or rely on government assistance. They, as I imagine Peter and his buddies would have been, are not happy.

Declining fish stocks are not the only problem with Israel’s water systems. Intensive irrigation by Israel, Syria, and Jordan now robs the Sea of Galilee of much of the water that once flowed into it. More water is pumped from the lake, and still more from the Jordan River below it. The trickle that’s left of the Jordan is so polluted that baptisms, like fishing, are banned except for a small section near Yardenit, before the river reaches a major influx of raw sewage.

The poisoning of the waters in “the Holy land” is a sad reminder of how poisoned the atmosphere remains. Continued tension between Israelis and the Palestinians makes life very difficult, and resident Christians — once common among the Palestinian Arabs — are now more rare than fish in the Sea of Galilee.

If only it were as easy to put a ban on hatred and persecution as it is to prohibit fishing! Some things, like the biblical notion of the dangerous Leviathan, are better left in the deep.

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