If you’ve ever slathered your skin in the healing, mineral-rich mud of the Dead Sea, you may want to stop reading now.
More than 8 million gallons of sewage from East Jerusalem is pumped downhill to the Dead Sea, raw and untreated, every day. That’s not just a little icky for those of us who like to float in the lowest body of water on earth. It’s also an environmental catastrophe, and potentially another flashpoint in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
“It’s the greatest environmental hazard in the country,” said Naomi Tzur, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, who heads the planning and environmental committees on the city council. “I don’t sleep easily at night knowing that this is happening.”
The Dead Sea is one of the contenders to be named among the Seven Natural Wonders of the World in an online poll that organizers estimate will draw a billion voters by the time results are announced next year. But its location also puts it in the firing line of a conflict almost as bitter as the sea’s highly saline water.
In 1993, the German government offered to finance a sewage-treatment plant for East Jerusalem. The plant was to be run jointly by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which was founded that year as part of the Oslo Accords. The Palestinians refused to accept a joint project because they didn’t want to recognize any Israeli authority over the territory occupied since 1967.