Israel & the holy waters
By Tobias Friedrich
Israel has been at the centre of religious and political struggles for centuries. These struggles still influence life for many cultures today so one tends to forget the beauty of the country itself. This small country has three different seas, the Mediterranean, the Red Sea and the Dead Sea on its borders and offers a lot for divers who are also fascinated by history.
Christmas day in 1969 brought a rainy day to Cherbourg harbour on the coast of France. Five missile boats silently left in the fog, heading south. The boats had been sold to the State of Israel, but because of the Six-Day War, the French government had decided not to deliver the boats even though they were paid for. Israel decided not to walk away; and hijacked the boats with no regard for the risks. After a dramatic cruise through the Straits of Gibraltar and the Mediterranean Sea, the boats finally made it to Israel, where they served the navy for more than 20 years. They were decommissioned in the early nineties. The dive association of Israel bought one of the ships and used it to create a dive site near Eilat, in the Red Sea.
The wreck is called Satil and is one of the most famous dive sites along the Israeli part of this coastline, which is only twelve kilometres long. David Vered, manager of the Manta Dive Centre at the Isrotel Yam Suf Hotel explained that most of the diving is done between Eilat and the border of Egypt. All the dive sites can be reached on foot or by a short drive, the centre does have a shuttle service. Another favourite site with divers is the so-called Moses Rock, a rock bommie on white sand about 10 metres wide, sitting at a depth of eight metres. Hundreds of marine creatures have made a home here including beautiful hard and soft corals. Even though you can swim around this rock a couple of times during a dive, you see something new or interesting on every lap. The wreck of the Satil and Moses Rock are the best dive sites in Eilat, the other sites are average if compared to sites in the Red Sea and they are bested by most of the sites in Egypt. This should not stop you though, Israel is not a country you visit for the dive sites only, other places of interest above water abound.
Moving north from Eilat one has to cross the Negev Desert. This desert is one of the driest in the world and makes up bulk of the southern part of the country, according to Irad Fenichel. Irad was born in Germany, but grew up in Israel; he now works as an official tour guide, leading groups around Israel. One of his must-see places is the fortress of Masada, which sits on top of a 400 metre high rocky plateau on the edge of the desert. It was the centre of a tragedy nearly 2000 years ago when the Romans attempted to occupy it, after a lengthy and fierce battle the residents committed suicide to avoid living under Roman rule. The fortress is now a tourist attraction providing stunning views over the southern part of the Dead Sea, another favourite stop for visitors. This sea is the deepest, most accessible point on land. It currently sits at 420 metres below sea level; the level fluctuates slightly due to inflow from the Jordan River in the north. One third of the volume is made up of salt, which leads to a very buoyant environment if compared to the open ocean. A swim is fun for everyone because it’s just so easy to float on the surface. Diving here seems to be impossible, but it’s not. Dead Sea Divers offers a full day trip to experience diving in these waters, which honestly takes a lot of effort. The only way to go deeper than the deepest point on land is to dive with a full-face mask and 30-40 kilograms of weight. You will need a bottle of fresh water handy to flush out even the smallest drops of water that could get into your eyes, it can be very painful, so be warned. A swim in the Dead Sea is a must for even poor swimmers. Pack a mask and snorkel and take a look at the magical salt crystals.
If you are travelling from the Dead Sea to Tel Aviv you must stop in Jerusalem. Many wars have been fought, mostly in the name of religion, to secure this impressive old city. Even now, the last words in this battle have yet to be spoken, but the city has calmed down and the bad times seem forgotten. You’ll notice there’s no sign of aggression between religious groups when you walk along the historical streets, past the mosques standing next to churches only separated by The Great Wall. This important historical site is definitely one of the main attractions in Israel and its air of calm is in complete contrast to the nightlife and energy of Tel Aviv, only one hour to the southeast. Jerusalem might be the capital of Israel, but Tel Aviv is the centre of business and industry as well as home to a young and westernised population. One hour north of Tel Aviv and its long, white beaches on the Mediterranean Sea lies our next diving hot spot, Ceasarea. Ruins of up to 2000 years old like that of the old harbour, Roman theatre and aqueduct can be seen on land and underwater. The dive sites are not as spectacular as their counterparts on land, but it is still a unique experience to swim past large pillars, blocks of marbles and a few shipwrecks, even when the visibility is not crystal clear. Listening to Shimon Kushnir from the Old Caesarea Dive Centre talk about the arrowheads, old pistols and clay fragments they have found makes divers want to find their own historical artefact on their next dive.
Israel offers so much to see for visitors that it’s impossible to mention it all, but do try to include the Timna Park in the Negev Desert, the Golan Heights and the Jordan River in the north. Israel’s important historical landmarks should be included on any traveller or historians’ itinerary. The diving is just the cherry on top of a rich and layered history cake.
For details on accommodation and diving in Eilat at Manta Dive Centre and Isrotel Yam Suf Hotel go to www.isrotel.com
For flights to Israel go to www.elal.co.il
Old Caesarea Dive Centre www.caesarea-diving.com
Dead Sea www.deadseadivers.com
It’s really easy to book transport and accommodation in Israel on-line, there are numerous sites but try www.goisrael.com to start.
Source: The Dive Site