A big part of Palestine is desert, and much of it is below sea level. Nearly any tourist here will stop at the Wadi Qilt viewpoint for a look at the vast and awe-inspiring Judean Desert. Nomad communities fill dusty gullies with their ramshackle huts and tents. Children and sheep dogs follow their flocks of goats and sheep as the herds search for something to munch on. Modern water pumps are caged in and surrounded by barbed wire—a reminder of what is the most important natural resource around here. And desolate monasteries cling to remote cliffs as they have for 1,500 years. From this viewpoint, you drive down to the ancient city of Jericho and, continuing on as your ears pop, you come to the bottom of it all: the Dead Sea.
The Monastery of St. George, built on cliffs above a natural spring, dates to the 6th century. For 1,500 years, its monks have lived lives of isolation and meditation inspired by Jesus.
The Monastery of St. George is Greek Orthodox. Lots of pilgrims, especially from Ethiopia and Greece, hike here, light candles, and gaze at its icons for inspiration.
Palestinian Christians come to the Monastery of St. George too. While less than 2 percent of Palestine is now Christian, those who are come from families that have lived here as Christians since the 1st century.
The Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth — about 1,400 feet below sea level. There is no ocean beach, lake, or riverbank in the West Bank where a Palestinian family can easily take their children. While Palestinians like to think part of the Dead Sea is in their territory, in reality, Israel (along with Jordan) controls its entire shoreline. When times are relaxed, Israeli guards give Palestinians access. Packed with bromine, magnesium, and iodine, it’s one of the saltiest bodies of water in the world (about 33 percent). Tourists are more than welcome here, and they enjoy bobbing like corks in the super-salty water. They also like rubbing its magically curative, black mud on their bodies. My guide took home a bag for his fiancé, as women believe the mud’s minerals make their skin younger and more beautiful.