The first thing I thought when I looked out the window this morning was, "'Where do you buy a snow shovel in Jerusalem?'" But the typically Canadian heavy snowfall that Israelis woke up to this morning has had serious consequences as the storm hits the Middle East.
In many parts of the country Thursday morning, 10 to 15 centimetres of snow fell.
Jerusalem, which is nestled among hills, received a good blanketing – enough to shut down schools and many businesses. Police closed the main highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Many of the picture-postcard images associated with the Holy Land now have a winter twinge. Much of the gold dome of the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem’s Old City was white this morning. Manger Square in Bethlehem is blanketed in snow.
"The downtown area is bathed in white," Elisha Peleg, an official in charge of emergencies for the municipality of Jerusalem, told the Jerusalem Post. "The elders of Jerusalem don’t remember such a snowstorm in years."
She urged people to stay home, and off the roads.
We Canadians are often smug when we watch other places around the world struggle with snowstorms. Friends here in Jerusalem have urged me to give seminars on shovelling and snow tires. But, for the first time, today I’m glad I packed my down-filled parka when I moved to the Middle East a year and a half ago.
The snowstorm follows the wettest winter Israel has seen in years. Heavy rainfall in the north has seen rivers, often running dry, now gushing with water. The Sea of Galilee, Israel’s largest source of fresh water, has risen by nearly 70 cm.
Two Palestinian women drowned on Tuesday when their car was washed away by a flash flood unleashed by torrential rains in the West Bank. Israel’s military has used helicopters and dinghies to rescue stranded residents.
The storm is responsible for at least six other deaths across the Middle East. Several people – including a baby – were swept away by flood waters in Lebanon. Thousands of people there are without power.
Rain and cold temperatures are making life even more difficult for tens of thousands of Syrians seeking shelter in refugee camps in Lebanon and Jordan. Three days of heavy rain have made the Zaatari camp in Jordan a muddy swamp. High winds have destroyed many of the tents, which are home to about 50,000 Syrians.
Snow fell in Damascus as well. The unusual winter weather has not, however, stopped the fighting between the Syrian government and opposition forces, as the civil war enters its 22nd month.