Parks Authority to try out segregated swimming at West Bank nature reserve

Plan will see wading polls in Einot Tzukim nature reserve near Dead Sea closed off to one gender to accommodate religious swimmers on four days in September

Illustrative: A water pool built for visitors at Einot Tzukim on January 3, 2017. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)
Illustrative: A water pool built for visitors at Einot Tzukim on January 3, 2017. (Melanie Lidman/Times of Israel)

Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority is launching an unprecedented pilot program this month that will introduce separate swimming times for men and women at a popular watering hole near the Dead Sea.

The Parks Authority said it was launching the program at the Einot Tzukim nature reserve in response to increased demand from members of the religious public, who frown upon mixed bathing.

“In recent years, we have received many requests and inquiries from tourists who are interested in separate bathing at public nature reserves in the Parks Authority’s jurisdiction,” the Parks Authority wrote on its website.

The Parks Authority said that the gender segregated swim sessions will be conducted with “minimal impact” on the general public.

The nature reserve, located near Qumran in the West Bank, is made up of a series of small wading pools, fed by a network of rivulets, as well as a larger swimming pool. It is popular with both Israelis and Palestinians.

Over four days this month, the nature reserve’s two lower wading pools will host segregated swimming sessions until noon, with women using the pools on the 7th and 14th of the month, and men on the 10th and 17th. The main pool will continue to feature coed swimming at all times as usual.

“We are trying to find a solution for this community of tourists who, without having a separate pool, would be prevented from enjoying this natural resource like the rest of the general public,” the Parks Authority said.

Many religious Jews view mixed swimming as immodest and some facilities such as gyms and community centers accommodate this stringency by relegating certain time blocks to a single gender. However, attempts to gender-segregate some public facilities have been met in the past with protests and lawsuits by those who see it as a form of religious coercion.

Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the Einot Tzukim nature reserve is operating according to the “Purple Badge” guidelines, meaning only a limited quota of visitors who pre-register are admitted at any time.

After the conclusion of the pilot program, the Parks Authority said it will examine the results “in depth” and decide “if and how to proceed with this process.”

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