Israel 2017–Day 6

18 Pictures

From the highest region of the country, today we head for the lowest point in the world at the Dead Sea, 1412 feet below sea level. The continuing haze produced by unusual heat for this time of year reduces visibility of the Sea of Galilee from our first stop, the shrine of the Beatitudes where Jesus is reputed to have preached the Sermon on the Mount. The place is packed with Christian pilgrim tour buses.


Next stop is the outflow of the Jordan river near Tiberias, where another shrine has been set up to allow pilgrims to experience the kind of immersion that John the Baptist provided for Jesus. This tree-shaded river bank facility has been created by the Israel Tourist Board to replace what is assumed to be the actual site further south, since there’s not enough water there to carry out the ritual.

As we continue southward, the temperature climbs and the land becomes more barren.  We stop at the site of the Roman City of Bet Shean, which includes an intact original amphitheatre, bathhouse and collonade. Its position at the intersection of north-south and east-west trade routes and its water supply from springs upstream account for the city’s location.



Its destruction by massive earthquakes explains why it wasn’t buried by later civilizations.

We’re now in the West Bank, under Israeli sovereignty but Palestinian administrative jurisdiction.  The poverty is evident. The highway is paralleled by tall fences and crossed by roads heading for checkpoint crossings into Jordan, which lies on the east bank of the dried up river.


The other side looks green with agricultural fields backed up by brown mountains.  On our side one sees some agricultural production in hoop houses and date plantations, but most of the land seems uninhabited, except where the modern houses of fenced Jewish settlements appear on hilltops.

The valley opens out into the blue expanse of the Dead Sea to the east and the lifeless eroded cliffs of the Judaean desert to the west. We pass the cave openings of Qumran, where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered, and the oasis of Ein Gedi, where David hid from pursuit by King Saul.


Gabi expresses alarm about sinking water levels due to climate change and upstream usage and tells us about joint Jordanian/Israeli efforts to maintain a channel between the northern and southern portions and to dig a canal to bring water downhill from the Red Sea.  The reason for these efforts is to maintain the tourist industry that supports numerous Las Vegas-type hotels on its shores.


We disembark at one called Danielle, a high rise between cliffs and beach with a twelve story atrium, exhausted by the afternoon heat. Signs here are in Hebrew, English and Russian and Russian is the language most heard from guests and staff.

As the sun lowers I walk down to the beach occupied by people of many shapes and sizes and littered with cigarette butts.  With my baseball hat and sunglasses on for protection, I enter the tepid greasy-feeling water, lie on my back and put the visor over my face.  I remain there motionless for half an hour staring up at the pure blue sky. It’s an interesting experience, but I have no desire to repeat it.


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