Once a bustling tourist attraction, the Dead Sea is rapidly disappearing — and its beaches are almost unrecognizable

Make-shift huts line Metzoke Dragot beach on the Dead Sea.

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Make-shift huts line Metzoke Dragot beach on the Dead Sea.
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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

  • The Dead Sea has long been a tourist attraction because of its high salt content and proximity to Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank.
  • However, sinkholes have wrecked havoc on its shores and the Dead Sea’s shoreline continues to get smaller due to drought.
  • One beach, Metzoke Dragot, has remained occupied – not by tourists, but people who want to escape modern life and live without electricity.

The Dead Sea is not what it once was.

The destination, famous for its high salt content that’s almost 10 times greater than the ocean, allows swimmers to stay afloat. The Dead Sea’s waters have also attracted those seeking spiritual elevation, given its religious significance, bordering Israel, Jordan, and the West Bank.

However since the late 1980s, massive sink holes – some the size of a basketball court – have riddled the large lake’s shore line, making it a dangerous place for any visitor. And, the rate at which sink holes are developing is increasing. In the 1990s, it was a few dozen a year, and in 2015 around 700 were reported.

The sinkholes are caused by the Dead Sea’s salty water receding – which is happening at a rate of about 3 feet per year. One cause of the receding is that the Dead Sea’s natural water sources, which flow south through the Jordan River valley from Lebanon and Syria, have been diverted for both farming and drinking water. Mineral mining by Israeli and Jordanian potash producers account for further damage.

As the Dead Sea water recedes, fresh groundwater bubbles up, dissolving layers of salt in the land, which creates the large underground cavities. Israel’s drought – now going into its fifth year – has also contributed.

Now, abandoned resorts and old water parks sit on the shores of the Dead Sea. Many of its public beaches have closed.

However there is one beach along the Dead Sea that stays continuously occupied by those who want to escape modern life. They’re not tourists – they are there indefinitely. On Metzoke Dragot beach, they live in make-shift tents and camps, in one of Earth’s lowest elevation points.

Reuters photographer Ronen Zvulun recently visited and spoke with those living on the beach. See the photos, below.


Metzoke Dragot beach is located in the northern part of the Dead Sea, which borders Israel, the occupied West Bank, and Jordan.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

A man named Avraham sits at his makeshift camp — many of these homes or “zulas,” which is Hebrew slang for a hangout, dot the Metzoke Dragot beach.

Make-shift huts line Metzoke Dragot beach on the Dead Sea.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

These “zulas” are mostly built with branches, tarp, and old sheets that provide cover from the sun.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

High season here is in the winter, when the heat is more bearable.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Those who stay seek refuge from modern day life, and hope to avoid the rat race, reports Reuters.

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A man reads the bible as he sits in his makeshift camp on the shore of the Dead Sea, near Metzoke Dragot in the Israeli occupied West Bank, January 4, 2018.
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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Some tourists do still come through Metzoke Dragot — such as Zina, pictured here, a tourist from Belarus.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Reuters, spoke to one man who has lived on Metzoke Dragot beach for 10 years.

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A man sits on the shore of the Dead Sea, near Metzoke Dragot in the Israeli occupied West Bank, February 7, 2018.
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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Those who decide to stay live without electricity.

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Sharon sleeps in a sleeping bag on the shore of the Dead Sea, near Metzoke Dragot in the Israeli occupied West Bank.
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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Bathers and swimmers often cover themselves in the mineral-rich mud.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

At night, people come together lighting bonfires.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

Jade, pictured here, is a former fire-fighter from New York. She’s been living in Metzoke Dragot for over a year. She told Reuters she came here for healing purposes, and had planned to go back to her home in Jerusalem after a while. In her camp she keeps crystals, potted herbs, books, and food that she brings once a week on the bus from Jerusalem.

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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters

“I’ve found the deepest most amazing healing and peace, the most amazing energy,” Jade told Reuters. “This is my life, I’m not leaving.”

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Jade holds a Tibetan singing bowl as she sits on a cliff overlooking the Dead Sea.
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Ronen Zvulun/Reuters