The abandoned Ethiopian Monastery by Jesus' baptismal site in the Jordan Valley.
(photo credit: TOVAH LAZAROFF)
War long ago silenced the words of God that once resounded in the seven abandoned monasteries along the small paved road that leads to Jesus’ baptismal site on the Israeli side of the Jordan River, known as Qasr al Yehud.
Israel shut down the monasteries for safety reasons during the War of Attrition in the aftermath of the 1967 Six Day War, when there were cross-border raids between Israel and Jordan. It declared the area a military zone and planted thousands of land mines there to stop infiltrations from terrorists and the Jordanian Army.
Now, the Israel National Mines Action Authority, together with the IDF and the international NGO HALO Trust, are in the midst of deactivating some 5,000 land mines spread across 100,000 square meters of land just a few feet away from the Jordanian border.
On Sunday, the IDF and the INMAA gave journalists a rare glimpse of two of the seven buildings that are part of the Land of the Monasteries project that no longer pose a danger: the Franciscan chapel and the Ethiopian monastery. The Greek Orthodox monastery has also been de-mined, but was not part of the tour.
Given the 1994 peace treaty with Jordan and the fact that land mines are no longer part of Israel’s defensive strategy, there is no need for such explosives along the Jordanian border.
“Now, this is a border of peace,” INMAA director Marcel Aviv told reporters as he stood on a small hilltop overlooking the monasteries, presenting the project to reporters.
Aviv described the work done under the NIS 20 million project to clear land mines, anti-tank mines, booby traps and other unexploded devices.
The area is still cordoned off from the small single-lane road by rusted barbed wire and signs that state “danger, mines” in English and Hebrew.
The project, which began in 2017, is expected to be finished within the next year or two.
Israel’s National Parks Authority is also working jointly with the churches on whose land the monasteries sit. Israel and the churches want to attract 2.4 million tourists annually to an area already visited by 800,000 people a year, Aviv said.
As he led reporters through the Franciscan monastery, Land of the Monasteries Project Manager Moshe Hillman showed the bullet and pock marks on the monastery walls.
Fifty years of dust and rubble fill the small rooms lit only by sunlight that streams through the broken windows.
“When we opened the doors we entered a world that no one treaded on for close to 50 years.”
“I am talking about bottles of wine that had not been touched,” he said. They also found wood crosses and small metal bells.
Everything they found of value was returned to the churches, he said.
Looking at a chair thick with dust, he pointed out the small marks of a bird’s feet. “A bird was the last person to use this chair,” he said.
Walking into these buildings, he said, “has been a journey back in time.”
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>