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Parting the Waters

A source of conflict between Israel and its neighbors for decades, the Jordan River is now depleted by drought, pollution, and overuse. Could the fight to save it forge a path toward peace?

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Holy Water

A precious commodity in a region of conflict

BY STEPHAN FARIS

PUBLISHED IN THE NOVEMBER / DECEMBER 2011 ISSUE OF ORION MAGAZINE

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.

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Will the Jordan River Keep on Flowing?

Massive withdrawals for irrigation, rapid population growth, and a paralyzing regional conflict have drained nearly all the water from this fabled river. A leading Israeli conservationist describes a multinational effort to save the Jordan River.

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