Orion Magazine has published a story I did with Francesco Zizola on the struggle for water in the Middle East. They also put together this narrated slideshow, with my voice over Francesco’s photographs:
In Israel, not far from the place where Jesus is said to have walked on water and fed thousands with just five loaves of bread and two fish, government engineers have performed a miracle of their own—they’ve made a river disappear. The Jordan River leaves the Sea of Galilee on its way to the Dead Sea in a slow laze past a series of campsites to a concrete complex, beside which white-robed pilgrims submerge themselves in its waters. From there, it pushes onward, winding through olive groves, farmers’ fields, and patches of brushwoods. Then, suddenly, it stops. At a pumping station less than three kilometers from the river’s source, five broad green pipes dip like elephant trunks to suck the water out. Beyond this point, the river has been reduced to less than 2 percent of its original flow.
The disappearance of the Jordan River, much like the area’s dropping aquifers, is a symptom of the struggle for water that has shaped the modern Middle East. The flow of a river that once irrigated the fields of the West Bank has been channeled through pipes, pumps, and canals to gush from the taps in Tel Aviv, and to “make the desert bloom” in the Negev. This diversion of water may be a technical marvel, but it’s emptying rivers and leaving critical aquifers dangerously susceptible to the intrusion of salt water and raw sewage.
Read the rest.