The Dead Sea – by Mike Leibsohn

The Dead Sea is truly a wonder of the natural world; it is the lowest place on Earth and
its waters have such a high concentration of salts and minerals that it can sustain no life
whatsoever. Throughout history both ancient and modern, locals and tourists alike have flocked
to its shores to bask in the beauty and tranquility that abound here, and also to experience the
alleged healing powers of the environs. The unique combination of atmospheric pressure, dry
air, and extremely high mineral content has been said to cure a wide range of ailments,
including respiratory and skin disorders. The famous King Herod built his famous winter palace
here, on the cliff face of Masada overlooking the northern Dead Sea, over two thousand years
ago; the dry desert climate has preserved the ruins magnificently.
First-time visitors are often brought to giggles by the expectedly odd feeling of floating
so easily in the heavy water; classic photo ops include reading a book or newspaper, and
flashing a good old-fashioned “two thumbs up”. One may then find a waterside mud pit and
proceed to slather thick layers over all exposed body parts; let the mud dry for about 20 minutes
before rinsing thoroughly with fresh water. The result? Skin as soft as the finest imaginable silk
for the next several days. A pre-dawn hike up the mountain fortress of Masada offers one of the
most breathtaking sunrises anywhere in Israel; enjoy the view while touring the impressive
remains of a once-bustling royal village. After hiking down the treacherous Snake Path, the next
stop is nearby Ein Gedi, a true desert oasis complete with natural flowing springs forming
waterfalls and picturesque swimming holes.
Unfortunately, however, this magical place is in severe danger of imminent extinction,
due mainly to two reasons. Over the last one hundred years, humans have begun diverting large
quantities of the Jordan River’s flow to be used for local purposes farther north, mostly
agriculture and drinking water. In addition, huge factories pump water through their facilities in
order to extract the minerals necessary for a wide range of world-famous beauty and skin care
products. This dual-edged sword of removing water and preventing its replacement by natural
processes has led to the increasingly fast-paced recession of the shoreline; the hotels and spas
that once lined the water’s edge now sit several hundred meters away, accessed by various
shuttles and trams. Various plans have been proposed to restore the Dead Sea to its former
glory, including a pipeline that would transport water from the Red Sea in the south. However,
do to regional squabbling and a general lack of willingness to seriously commit the necessary
resources, the situation continues to worsen instead of showing any indications of reversal. If
we allow this greedy and selfish behavior to continue, then the number of generations that will
live to enjoy this truly awe-inspiring natural wonder can literally be counted on one finger.

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