Sketches of Israel & Palestine: Bethlehem to Nablus via The Dead Sea

Travelling towards the Dead Sea from Bethlehem, we are dropping in altitude. We stop at Sea Level point along the Judean River. The landscape has slowly shifted from green to an arid, dry desert landscape with very few trees. Some shrubs exist and you can see how grass grows in the areas that receive more shade. It reminds me of Geoff Lawton’s Greening the Desert work in Jordan and I think about what it would take to bring trees to some of these hills, return moisture to the earth and bring resilience and new opportunities to the region. But this is fantasy. There are many other priorities on this land, other than creating gardens in the desert.


We descend further to 427m below sea level to the Dead Sea. A salty, lifeless lake that’s fed by the Jordan River. Reduced rainfall and inflow is causing the Dead Sea to shrink significantly. The water is also being used to make salts which may be adding to environmental degradation. Our guide tells us that there’s a proposed project to pull water into the Dead Sea from the Red Sea, 350km to the south.

The Dead Sea (1972, 1989, and 2011), NASA Earth Observatory 2012 (web source)

I remember my Mum telling me about the Dead Sea when I was growing up and I was so excited to finally have a chance to float in it. The water felt oily and warmer with depth, rather than colder. We had fun floating around and covered ourselves in the dark brown, smooth clay. It felt very therapeutic.


After showering off, we were back on the road. The desert brown fading away to become green again as we entered Jericho, supposedly one of the oldest cities in the world with evidence of habitation 10,000 years ago, at a time when the methods of food production were shifting to support urbanisation. We spent a moment by a grand old sycamore tree, “considered” (or rather chosen to symbolise) to be the one Zacchaeus the tax collector climbed to get a better view of Jesus.

Zacchaeus's sycamore tree

Later on, not far from Nablus, we went to a beautiful Eastern Orthodox monastery that is built over the site of Jacob’s Well. This is where, in the Book of John, a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman took place.

Jacob's Well

Jacob’s Well - ceiling

Later we met Rev’d Ibrahim from the Church of St Philip. Christians are very much a minority in Nablus and Father Ibrahim shared some inspiring stories of his positive relationships with Muslim leaders in the community, whom he has regular dialogue with. He striked me as a resilient, brave character, full of compassion with a strong desire for peace.