Israelis, Palestinians, and Jordanians are currently planning accelerated development around the Dead Sea, which would result in massive construction of new hotels, expansion of industry and enhanced mineral and water extraction. The various new endeavors currently proposed for the region demonstrate not only woefully insufficient consideration of even basic ecological principles, but also a lack of basic coordination between sectors and between the three relevant governmental authorities.
See also Red Dead Conduit.
Excerpts from my journal as I explore the situation in Palestine and Israel
Yesterday’s first task was thinking about how far south I’d travel and where I might stay the night. Then a visit to the Ein Gedi Nature Reserve.
I’d stopped by on an earlier Dead Sea journey but for reasons I don’t recall did not enter. This time I had time for a leisurely stroll up Wadi David to the first set of waterfalls. I was not alone: numerous tour groups also visited.
Most walked only the minimum distance, to the first fall. Some stopped to pray and sing, I assume they were Christian altho I don’t know the Christian significance of this area. I overheard the words David and his men, meaning King David, alleged to have hidden here. On the trail I remet the young couple from the Netherlands who I’d shared quarters with at the hostel and then drove them to the nature reserve. They intended to take a longer route to caves and other sites. I had neither the time, nor interest, nor knees for that journey.
Since water is one of my main themes I felt at home on this walk. Multiple falls (I showered in the first one, before and after photographing a woman and her infant playing in the water), exquisite rock or clay formations (what keeps the structures in place, how dangerous is walking here, what if an earthquake happened? I did see a sign with the words Escape Route), striations showing millennial changes (2 million years ago this area was covered with water that connected to the Mediterranean), well made and tended trails with handrails and steps, birds and one gruesome looking rodent with sharp teeth that I photographed, views to the Dead Sea and back toward the Negev Desert heights, and a comfortable climate—not too hot, nor too cold, no hint of rain, some clouds.
Rock Hyrax/Rock Badger
Then, to the car and off I spin south. With a long stop at the Ein Bokek hotel complex which I visited a few years ago. Here a room would cost me upwards of $300! On my last visit I could walk easily into a hotel (and surreptitiously photograph) with the story that I was considering an overnight stay. Not so this time—it is Israel’s Independence Day holiday. The hotels are loaded, not quite full. I found a friendly security man who let me park and escorted me to reception where I spoke with a dark-skinned young woman. After inquiring about prices I asked, might I look around? Help yourself. This after a rebuff at the first hotel I tried, the Leonardo.
I photographed and tried to imagine staying here, even if on a corporate budget. Would I? Why? So dismal, so dry, so too perfect. Not for me. Money or not.
Near the Ein Bokek hotel complex in the southern sea, the sea level continues to fall. Thus, a new road LOWER than the old.
Paradoxically, while water from the northern section is pumped into the southern to be evaporated for mineral extraction, the sea level is rising in some places because of the build up of salt deposits that remain after mineral extraction. Thus, a new road, higher than the old.
Where will I sleep tonight? How about the beach, in my car? I scouted various locations, spoke with numerous people, and learned essentially I could car camp most anywhere in Israel and not be bothered. Where would I find minimal facilities like an unlocked toilet in the morning for a commanding call? That is not so easy. I spotted a couple, she with head covered, apparently car camping. I could pull up beside them, spoil their privacy, and have little of my own.
“According to the Israeli group Who Profits From the Occupation? (whoprofits.org), the mud used in Ahava products is taken from a site on the shores of the Dead Sea inside the occupied territory, next to Kalia. Ahava uses Palestinian natural resources without the permission of or compensation to the Palestinians. Meanwhile, Israel denies Palestinians access to the shores of the Dead Sea and its resources, although one-third of the western shore of the Dead Sea lies in the occupied West Bank.”
I surveyed a small shopping mall. Remembering the boycott of Ahava cosmetics because it uses materials from the Palestinian section of the Dead Sea I photographed the Ahava retail store, trying to combine the shop, sign, and beach. I bought a beer (18 NIS/$4.50) and drank half the can in my car, then napped, awakening to heat. The shadow had shifted. I bought a small tin of instant coffee, 20 NIS/$5. And made a cup of cold coffee to rouse myself after the beer for the drive further south. I photographed the old road which is higher than the new road, indicating sea recession, and then later, further south, I photographed the new road, higher than the old, because the southern basin is rising.
This is complicated: the Sea’s northern portion is clearly receding because of diversion and drought (altho I learned huge changes in sea level are common over a long stretch of time, level much higher in the century before the era of Jesus), and apparently for a while the Sea’s south portion receded as well. Then, with the buildup of mineral deposits from mining the water for potassium, sodium, etc, the level is rising in the south. Rather than curtail the mineral deposition the government has decided to revise the infrastructure. So we have here 2 major problems caused by changes in water—sinkholes and infrastructure, which includes the hotels.
I photographed as many manifestations of these phenomena as I could. I might have enough photos for a Dead Sea presentation alone. Include the Dead Sea works, pipes, cliffs, etc, and it may be a substantial collection. Add to that also the region I now write from, Neot haKikar, and I might have a unique collection. (I should research other photo sets from the Dead Sea. I long for aerial views, maybe next time bring a drone.)
Pumps move water from the northern section to the south
Canals carry water to the southern section
Dead Sea Works, for extracting potash, and other minerals
Last evening as I drove into the small moshav (agricultural coop), Neot HaKikar, for groceries, I noticed about 10 dark-skinned Asian men riding on a flat bed trailer pulled by a tractor. First thought: tourists. Second: they might stay where I’m staying, ghastly. Third thought as I discovered they shopped at the same “minimarket” as me and bought large quantities of beer, wine and vodka, along with some staples, Oh oh, what if they reside tonight at the camp lodge where I am? Could be rowdy and noisy. Fourth thought, as I heard their language, a singsong Cambodian-like language: Ah ha, they are foreign agricultural workers, probably from Thailand.
Agricultural workers from Thailand in the cooperative farming village of Neot HaKikar at the southern Dead Sea tip
Shkedi’s Camp Lodge in Neot HaKikar
I thought I might inquire of the man at checkout but this would be in the presence of the workers. Save the question for later, perhaps Gil, the lodge’s proprietor, who I’ve yet to see this morning (later he affirmed my speculation). Checking on line, I find references to Thai workers in this region. Local agriculture grows melons, tomatoes, squash, etc, that can survive on salty water.
I consider whether foreign workers throughout Israel could become a subtheme of my photography. I waited while they boarded a flatbed and then tried to follow them without being spotted. I made a few snaps, planning to scout further today. But because it might still be holiday—and the beginning of Shabbat—they may not work. Perhaps this is their reason for stocking up on booze.
Referring to my speculations about dangers from falling rocks at Ein Gedi Nature Reserve:
The Neot HaKikar disaster (Hebrew: אסון נאות הכיכר), which occurred on 30 December 1970, was until the Mount Carmel forest fire of 2010 the worst natural disaster in the history of the State of Israel. Heavy rains caused rocks to detach from an overhanging cliff and crush a dining room in an Israel Defense Forces base. 19 soldiers and one civilian were killed and ten soldiers were injured (three of them severely). (Wikipedia)
Looking south toward the Red Sea, Dead Sea approximately in the middle, Sea of Galilee near the bottom, the Mediterranean Sea on the right
“Israel Chemicals Moves Dead Sea Salt for $1 Billion,” by David Wainer, 2013
“The Dying of the Dead Sea,” by Joshua Hammer, 2005
“The Dead Sea Is Dying,” by Eetta Prince-Gibson, 2013
“Red Sea water may not save drying Dead Sea,” by Ruth Krause, 2015
TO BE CONTINUED