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Discovering the Dead Sea from a Different, Not-So-Distant Shore

Monday, April 25, 2016| Permalink

Barbara Kreiger is the author of The Dead Sea and the Jordan River, a chronicle of the natural and human history of two of the Middle East’s most iconic bodies of water. Barbara is guest blogging here all week as part of the Visiting Scribe series on The ProsenPeople.

When I started writing my book about the Dead Sea, I was somewhat tentative in my approach because the subject was so large and there were so many possible ways to begin. Yet, mesmerized as I was by the landscape and history, I knew it was what I wanted to do. I was awed by the beauty and uniqueness of this strange landscape, where the barren cliffs towered above a long and narrow lake. I was intrigued by the fact that the Dead Sea was shared by Israel and Jordan, two nations that were then in a state of war. I looked out at the crisp blue water, salt crystals sparkling along the shore, and I wondered how it could be that an international border was somehow demarcated. Who could tell where 50% ended and enemy territory began? I looked at my map, where a soft lavender line, painted in a pleasing curve, indicated the border. It was not at all intimidating.

To start the project, I spent several weeks in Israel, where I divided my time between the Rockefeller Library in East Jerusalem and hiking around the Dead Sea to become better acquainted with the surroundings. One day as I was exploring the shore, I happened to meet a team of scientists who were going out in a boat to gather samples of water and sediment to bring back to their laboratories. When they heard I was writing about the Dead Sea, they invited me to join them for the day. It was an unprecedented opportunity. I gathered my notebook and camera, quickly packed my backpack, and jumped aboard.

It was a very exciting day. I was out on a forbidden lake, and looking first to the Israeli side, then to the Jordanian, I was struck by the contrast between the tranquility of the scene and the turmoil of the political world. At the same time, I was with a group of scientists whose work knew no borders and who were committed to one thing only: a greater understanding of this corner of the natural world.

I instinctively knew that on both sides, on all sides, were people with shared goals and a passionate attachment to the region. Indeed, later I became acquainted with a trilateral organization consisting of Israelis, Jordanians, and Palestinians whose focus was their shared environment. Working together to promote regional cooperation as they strive to protect their collective resources, EcoPeace/Middle East inspired me with their commitment to education and cross-border initiatives. Undaunted by political obstacles, they continue to draw support from all sides and internationally. Of course I couldn’t help but be drawn in by their devotion to social and environmental teamwork.

So when I speak about my influences, I think about the dedication of all the people I eventually met—Israelis, Jordanians, Palestinians; the scientists on the boat, the nature lovers whose careers were devoted to protecting the fragile environment, the hikers who trekked across the desert for a view of the Dead Sea from the heights—in other words, all who feel drawn to this unique landscape and compelled to keep returning. I considered myself very fortunate to have become aware of this network as I started out: their devotion inspired me, and my own commitment, which was to do justice to theirs, had to be expressed in a book worthy of their collective contributions. I felt I had to write as engaging and evocative a book as possible, to attract an audience with a huge variety of reasons for wanting to read my narrative, to highlight the work that so many others had done in various fields over the years, and to find for myself a quiet intersection between my values and the natural world, too often threatened, but, we hope, resilient and enduring.

Barbara Kreiger is adjunct associate professor and chair of creative writing in the Master of Arts in Liberal Studies Program at Dartmouth College.

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