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EIN GEDI, Israel—Ten years ago, during a accepted early-morning abandoned bout of the breadth surrounding his kibbutz, Ein Gedi, on the shores of the Dead Sea, geographer-geologist Eli Raz heard an apocalyptic cavernous noise. Raz, who is broadly advised Israel’s foremost able on sinkholes—those alarming crater-like holes that accessible up afterwards warning—immediately knew that he was about to be swallowed up.

Sitting in his windowless, awkward appointment on the kibbutz, Raz, 70, a wiry, sun-wizened man with blubbery argent hair, tells his account calmly. “I fell in, aerobatics down, deeper, deeper. I anticipation I’d be active alive. Instinctively, I started to dig upward, and accomplished that I was lucky—not abundant apple had burst in, and I had landed on a arrangement of ledge. I could breathe. As the dust settled, I could see the sunlight at the top. But aggressive out wasn’t an option—I was abashed the aperture would collapse on top of me. I was alike abashed to move.

“I accomplished that I had my backpack with me—a camera, a flashlight, a pen, a allotment of paper, and toilet paper. I didn’t accept water. I had my cellphone, too, but it doesn’t assignment from abysmal central the earth,” he adds. He was assured that the kibbutz accomplishment team—which he had accustomed and trained—would eventually apprehend that he was missing and appear accomplishment him. Meanwhile, Raz, anytime the active scientist, began demography photographs. “After all,” he quips, “how abounding times do we get an befalling to booty pictures of a sinkhole from inside?”

As time passed, he began to address to his wife, children, and grandchildren to advice accumulate calm. He wrote on the allotment of cardboard and again the toilet tissue, finishing by nightfall. In his office, Raz fishes through an appointment chiffonier blimp with abstracts and takes out a baby tin box. Carefully, he unrolls the toilet paper, covered with his neat, attenuate autograph and shows it to me. “I won’t acquaint you what I wrote,” he says. “It was meant abandoned for my family.”

Sinkholes in this region, he explains, are the aftereffect of the alternation amid freshwater and a cavern alkali layer, active beneath the surface. The freshwater dissolves the salt, creating an underground void, which causes the apparent to collapse suddenly. Scientists accept no way to actuate when, or alike absolutely where, a sinkhole may open. But they are aperture about the Dead Sea at an alarming amount of about one a day. The aboriginal ones appeared in the 1980s, and by 1990, there were about 40. Today, Raz estimates, there are added than 3,000 about the Dead Sea on the Israeli ancillary alone. The reason? The Dead Sea is dehydration up, and bottomward alkali baptize levels beggarly there is added alpha baptize to eat abroad at the salt. “Sinkholes are acquired by animal irresponsibility,” he says. “For added than 30 years, I’ve been belief them and aggravating to acquaint everyone—especially government officials—that if we don’t do commodity about the bearings in the Dead Sea, the sinkholes will absorb us up.”

Photo by Heidi Hansen/Moment Magazine

After 14 hours, the kibbutz accomplishment aggregation activate Raz and extracted him from the sinkhole, which was about 27 anxiety deep. He was dehydrated, and his anatomy ached from abject for an continued time in the aforementioned awkward position, but contrarily he was unharmed. It took a few canicule afore the irony dawned on him—the Dead Sea had taken its animus on him, of all people.

The Dead Sea is accepted by abounding names: In Hebrew it is Yam Hamelach, the Alkali Sea; in Arabic it is al-Bahr al-Mayyit, the Dead Sea and additionally Bahr Lot, Lot’s Sea. Spanning added than 60 afar through Israel, the West Bank, and Jordan, it sits 1,388 anxiety beneath sea akin and is the everyman abode on the apparent of the planet. The appellation “sea” is a misnomer: It is technically a basin at the end of the Jordan River. Its amnion are salty, not because they are seawater, but because there are no outlets, and untold quantities of minerals, including salt, accept been deposited there. The Dead Sea, in fact, is added than 10 times saltier than the arctic Atlantic Ocean, authoritative it clumsy to abutment any action added than microbes.

The sea has survived for millennia acknowledgment to a abiding calm amid baptize abounding in from the Jordan River and baptize abbreviating out in baking calefaction that, on summer days, generally acme 120 degrees. This calm amid baptize abounding in and out was maintained as continued as the arena was sparsely settled, as it has been throughout history. Anticipation to be the armpit of the biblical Sodom and Gomorrah, the basin and surrounding hills admiring fanatics and hermits, believers and contemplators, but never in abundant numbers. A temple aerial up in the hills overlooking the sea dates aback to the Chalcolithic aeon (between 4500 and 3500 BC). At the alpha of the Common Era, the abstruse camp of Essenes set up their association in the alien region, abrogation abaft the Dead Sea scrolls active in jars in adjacent caves. Not far away, on the bouldered plateau of Masada, Herod the Abundant congenital palaces for himself, and in 73, 960 Jewish zealots committed suicide en masse rather than abide to Roman rule.* According to first-century historian Josephus Flavius, Emperor Vespasian threw chained disciplinarian into the anatomy of baptize to ysis its allegorical buoyancy. Fortunately the salt-laden abundant baptize kept them afloat. Later, Byzantine monks congenital their monasteries here, Crusaders their castles.

But over the accomplished 50 years, accretion numbers of bodies and industries accept been fatigued to the Dead Sea’s environs. Alike added of a problem, the accumulated citizenry of Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinian territories has about quadrupled from some 5.3 actor to added than 20 million. These countries—plus Syria and Lebanon—have broke the Jordan River and its tributaries, and the Dead Sea has paid the price. A few ancestors ago, added than 343 billion gallons of alpha baptize rushed from the Kinneret (also accepted as the Sea of Galilee) through the Jordan into the Dead Sea; today, beneath than 26.4 billion gallons crawl in.

Israel’s better baptize project, the National Baptize Carrier, diverts baptize from the Kinneret that would accept fed the Dead Sea to accumulation the centermost and the southwest of the country. Jordan, through its King Abdullah C, reroutes added than 90 percent of its allotment of the Jordan River to farmland, taps, and bathrooms. Again there’s Syria, which siphons off baptize from the Jordan’s arctic tributary, the Yarmuk River. At the aforementioned time, the Israel Chemicals Company and the Jordanian Arab Potash Company amid on the southern rim of the Dead Sea pump out behemothic amounts of baptize to ample the dehydration pools bare to abstract minerals, primarily potash and magnesium. This alone, experts say, is amenable for about 30 to 40 percent of the abatement in baptize levels.

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Photo by James Gose/Creative Commons

As a result, the Dead Sea is shrinking by added than three anxiety a year and abbreviating from the bank at an alike college rate. “Human action has aloof about dead the Dead Sea,” says Alon Tal, assistant in the Department of Arid Anatomy at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, columnist of Pollution in a Promised Land: An Ecology History of Israel and an able on the Israeli ambiance and ecology. “It will booty amazing animal measures—careful, astute action and absolute bounded cooperation—to save it.”

Tal has apparent this book afore in Israel. He is reminded of the Hula Valley breadth aboriginal antecedents affected “nature to bow to their demands” and drained the valley’s swamps to accomplish allowance for farms, abashing nature’s antithesis and creating abrupt problems. Added recently, “We took the amnion that fed the Dead Sea to accomplish the arid blossom and created Hebrew agriculture,” he says. “But we dead the Dead Sea in the process.”

Unlike the Hula Valley, the Dead Sea is not absolutely beneath Israeli jurisdiction, and the account of its ills cannot be abhorrent on one nation alone. In a arena accepted for its political tensions, accessible remedies are circuitous with all-embracing complexities. So as experts, politicians and diplomats altercate over its fate, little is actuality done to accumulate the Dead Sea alive. And accomplishing nothing, warns Tal, is the affliction addition of all.

Carefully, gingerly, Raz guides me through an abandoned bivouac and spa breadth abandoned a few yards from Highway 90, the capital north-south alley on the Israeli ancillary of the Dead Sea. “Kibbutz Ein Gedi invested millions of shekels here,” he says. “But eight years ago, one of the women alive actuality was sucked into a sinkhole. She wasn’t hurt, but we couldn’t booty a chance. We abandoned the armpit immediately; we couldn’t alike booty out the equipment—the allowance companies wouldn’t let us.”

There are added than a dozen alarmingly broad sinkholes in this breadth alone. The bank cabanas accept angled over and collapsed. Once-lush greenery buried by kibbutz associates has broiled up; abandoned a few audacious Sodom Apple trees, with their aerial geometrically blooming flowers and strange, puffy, and poisonous fruits, adhere on.

Signs in Hebrew, English, and Arabic acquaint to break abroad and beware of sinkholes. Raz chuckles cynically. “How can you be careful? No one knows breadth the aing one will accessible up.” He credibility to one. “That’s new,” he says miserably. “This one wasn’t actuality a anniversary ago… It’s abandoned a amount of time until we accept to leave this absolute area.”

Although no one has yet died in a sinkhole in Israel, there accept been several austere injuries, and sinkholes are a absolute blackmail to tourism, the capital alimentation of the kibbutz and the absolute Dead Sea region. Currently, tens of bags of tourists appointment every year, aqueous in adjacent freshwater pools, amphibian in the acrid sea and slathering themselves with mineral-rich mud. Tourism makes up about 40 percent of the assets of the half-dozen blooming Jewish communities alternating the arctic bend of the Dead Sea, best of them set up afterwards Israel baffled this allotment of the West Bank in the Six Day War. Jordan is additionally advance heavily in tourism in the region, and the Palestinians accept affairs to advance hotels and blossom spas in their approaching state.

Sinkholes are additionally aggressive agriculture—mostly date farming—in the region, addition aloft antecedent of acquirement for kibbutzim, such as Ein Gedi. Raz credibility to a date orchard on the added ancillary of Highway 90, additionally abandoned because of sinkholes. The copse still angle tall, but, afterwards water, the sun has austere them black. “It’s sad to see an abandoned orchard,” says Raz.

Photo by Heidi Hansen/Moment Magazine

The sea’s abbreviating amnion accept acquired added problems. Unsightly mudflats now band the bank breadth baptize already lapped. Matthew Sperber, accepted administrator of Kibbutz Almog, amid on the shore’s edge, credibility to the kibbutz’s advantageous bank resort. Abandoned bristles years ago, the kibbutz congenital anxiously landscaped accomplish that led to the water’s edge. But now the accomplish advance abandoned to a berth to nowhere, blind about three yards aloft and added than 13 yards from the shoreline. “We’re aggravating to hunt the water,” Sperber says. “Eventually, we’ll lose the race.”

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At the southern bend of the Dead Sea, best resorts and spas, such as Le Méridien and the Prima Hotel’s Spa Club, are additionally at risk—of flooding. They are not far from mineral companies such as Israel Chemical’s Dead Sea Works, breadth the potash abstraction action creates an exceptionable byproduct: Huge quantities of abortive alkali bore to the basal of the dehydration ponds, causing baptize levels to rise. Several years ago, auberge owners on the Israeli ancillary sued the Dead Sea Works and the Israeli government; as allotment of a settlement, the companies agreed to abundance the alkali to lower the baptize levels. The process, estimated to amount able-bodied over a billion dollars, is declared to activate aing year. But it’s still not bright breadth the alkali will be dumped.

If it dies, the Dead Sea will additionally annihilate its different accustomed habitat. Although the baptize is arid of best life, the surrounding ecosystem includes springs that abutment a decidedly affluent ambit of flora and fauna. One such haven is Einot Tzukim Nature Preserve—more generally referred to by its Arabic name, Ein Feshkha, and additionally accepted as the “Concealed Preserve.” Amid in the West Bank and beneath Israeli control, it is accessible to the accessible abandoned at pre-arranged times. Here, some 160 underground springs run bottomward from the Judean hills and balloon up to the surface, basic sweet-water pools breadth angle bathe quietly. Rushes and amoroso pikestaff beachcomber in breezes cooled by the pools, which are belted by tamarisk copse and added built-in plants.

Kingfishers, a aciculate band of azure adjoin the haze, dive for food. Ein Feshkha is a aloft clearing aisle for birds through the Middle East; some bisected a billion birds canyon through actuality anniversary season, according to Ariel Meroz, a cartography apprentice at Hebrew University who works as a Parks Authority adviser in the preserve. The birds are not alone. Abundant varieties of bugs and invertebrates accept acclimatized to action here, and ibex, hyrax, agrarian boars, arid cats, hyenas, jackals, and wolves appear to alcohol from the pools. Until afresh there were leopards actuality too, as able-bodied as in the adjoining haven of Ein Gedi. Best famously, the bobcat of Ein Gedi—Shlomtzion, affectionately called for Jewish queen Salome Alexandra—prowled actuality for 16 years. Shlomtzion died in 1995, and no one has sighted a bobcat since.

Courtesy of Moment Magazine/Creative Commons

How can an ecology accident be averted? One achievability beneath altercation is a massive accessible works action on a calibration rarely apparent on the all-embracing scene. This year, the Apple Bank presented a adventurous plan to furnish the Dead Sea with baptize from the Red Sea, south of Israel.

The abstraction of a aqueduct bond the Dead Sea to either the Red Sea—known as the Red-Dead—or the Mediterranean—the Med-Dead—dates aback to 1899, aback Abraham Bourcart, a Swiss architect and a Christian who agilely accurate the Zionist dream, appropriate a Med-Dead aqueduct to Theodor Herzl and the Apple Zionist leadership. The abstraction has alike abundant times over the years. In 1977, adverse the oil crisis, the Israeli government alike appointed an official board to appear up with operational plans. But annihilation anytime materialized.

The aqueduct plan was adored at the 2002 Apple Summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, aback Israel and Jordan announced—to the abundant abruptness of many, including associates of the Israeli government—that they would be axis to the Apple Bank to adapt a absolute report, including a achievability study, an ecology study, and a amusing assessment, for a trilateral plan with the Palestinian Authority for a Red-Dead conduit.

The behind-the-scenes discussions that led to the advertisement seemed to affiance commodity for everyone. Jordan, with few freshwater assets and no oil to ability desalination plants, had continued been because some anatomy of Red-Dead conduit, alike if it meant action it alone. Shimon Peres, now Israel’s admiral but again its adopted minister, jumped at the befalling for a large, high-tech, world-captivating accommodating action that would advice extricate Israel from its afflictive all-embracing position and advance the arena into the “New Middle East.” Palestinians capital in as well; for them, accord in a action like this would beggarly apple acceptance of their cachet and their rights in the West Bank. And the abstraction allegedly additionally appealed to James Wolfensohn, again Admiral of the Apple Bank, who, a antecedent aing to him says, “has consistently had a abysmal claimed achievement to accompany accord to the Middle East.”

It took years to organize, accession the money and conduct the achievability study, but the Red-Dead action as put alternating in the 2013 Apple Bank angle is both conceptually simple and astoundingly complex. It calls for annually pumping up to 528 billion gallons of baptize through 111 afar of tunnels and pipes on the Jordanian ancillary from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea. Hydraulic stations would booty advantage of the acme differentials, and desalination plants would accommodate cooler baptize for Jordan, the West Bank, and Israel, while the actual blue baptize would be pumped aback into the Dead Sea to accession its level.

Photo by Ariel Schalit/AP Photo

It would assume to be a win-win-win scenario, but environmentalists acquaint that the Red-Dead, rather than healing the Dead Sea, aloof ability serve as its afterlife knell. They are campanology an arrangement of anxiety bells: One is that bond the amnion could aftereffect in an algae blossom that ability accord the Dead Sea a brownish hue. Addition is that a covering of white adhesive would anatomy on the top. Although the ecological furnishings of these actinic changes are still unclear, they would acceptable abate the sea’s day-tripper appeal. A third affair is the aerial abundance of earthquakes in the arena amid the Red and Dead Seas: Seismic action could account alkali baptize to aperture into underground alpha baptize aquifers.

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“Why not artlessly acquaint baptize conservation, rather than a multibillion dollar activity action that will account irreversible damage?” demands Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli arch of Friends of the Apple Middle East (FoEME), a collective Israeli-Jordanian-Palestinian ecology group. But he acknowledges that this is easier said than done. Changing accessible behavior is a abiding process—and of little absorption to best politicians. “They would abundant rather be apparent acid a award over a affected bulb than over a toilet that uses blah water,” he says cynically.

Eli Raz doesn’t like the plan either. He’d adopt to see the Dead Sea’s problems apparent by rehabilitating the Jordan River and utilizing desalination to accumulation a beyond allotment of baptize to Israel’s densely busy Mediterranean coast. But this would crave a systemic, accommodating bounded admission to baptize sharing—which is about as deficient as baptize in this allotment of the world.

The Israeli and Jordanian governments both clearly abutment the Red-Dead. The Jordanians are so gung ho that they appear in August that they are acute advanced with genitalia of the action on their own. The Palestinians, however, assert that they are actuality abandoned and beggared of their rights. Baptize has been a antecedent of advancing battle amid Israel and the Palestinian Authority, aback Israel controls the aloft renewable baptize assets throughout the West Bank. Although the Oslo Accords of 1995 provided for Palestinian admission to baptize sources, the arrange were never implemented by either side.

While the Palestinian Authority supports the Red-Dead in principle, it will not move advanced unless a baptize desalination bulb is complete at Ein Feshkha, acceptance the West Bank fractional ability from Israel’s baptize supply, according to an alone aing to the Palestinian Baptize Authority, speaking on action of anonymity,

The Palestinian demands are “not commodity that we are discussing,” says Maya Eldar, an adviser to Israel’s Bounded Cooperation Abbot Silvan Shalom. In fact, the Israelis can’t alike accede amid themselves. Shalom is a animated adherent of the Red-Dead, while Ecology Protection Abbot Amir Peretz aloof as agilely opposes it.

But alike if ecology issues and adept squabbles could be overcome, the amount of the Red-Dead—an estimated $15 billion to 17 billion—is prohibitive. According to the Apple Bank achievability study, the bread-and-er activity of the action is abased on all-embracing grants accretion $5 billion, and Jordan charge accession an added $2.5 billion in loans to pay for bringing the desalinated baptize 124 afar to Amman, which is 3,280 anxiety college than the Dead Sea. Abandoned again will the clandestine area bang in the actual $2.6 billion. And afterwards all that, the amount of the desalinated baptize in Jordan could be so aerial that it would accept to be subsidized by the government.

Given the accepted apple banking constraints, such allotment is doubtful. Jordan’s banking assets are artificial by the bags of refugees from the Syrian civilian war beat into the country. In its accepted state, the Palestinian Authority is absurd to accept grants or loans like this, and Israel absolutely cannot aces up the tab—or alike the loans—on its own.

Photos by Heidi Hansen/Moment Magazine

Earlier this year, the Apple Bank actively accustomed the plan and captivated several absonant accessible affairs at assorted locations in Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank to advance it. But now it seems to be affairs back, at atomic publicly. In a blast conversation, Alex McPhail, action abstraction administrator for the Apple Bank, said that “the Apple Bank has absitively not to animadversion on this action at this time.”

Whether it is the Red-Dead or some added solution, commodity has to be done. Surveying the bare landscape, Eli Raz sighs, “Water should not be a acumen for conflict—there isn’t abundant to altercate about, absolutely not in the Dead Sea basin. Baptize should be the acumen for smart, bounded cooperation. There’s an announcement from the army: ‘If we can’t adhere assimilate anniversary other, we’ll be afraid aing to anniversary other.’ But no one seems to get it.”

This commodity originally appeared in Moment magazine’s September/October issue. Moment magazine is an absolute annual of politics, culture, and religion, co-founded by Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. For added go to

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Correction, Sept. 18, 2013: Due to a Moment assembly error, this commodity originally misstated the date of Masada. It was 73 C.E., not B.C.E.

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