Jordan river baptism.
(photo credit: First Run Features)
The site where tradition holds Jesus was baptized is in danger of being declared
offlimits to pilgrims because of pollution in the Jordan River.
al-Yahud, a few kilometers from where the river spills into the Dead Sea and
just south of the Allenby Bridge, has drawn over 100,000 tourists a year, most
of them Christian pilgrims who want to undergo baptism there. It is venerated as
the most likely candidate for the place where John the Baptist baptized Jesus
and declared him the messiah.
But drought and diversion for irrigation
have turned the lower Jordan River into a stagnant stream as it makes its way
from the Sea of Galilee. The brook then swells with raw sewage as it passes
Israeli health officials are reportedly considering erecting
signs warning: “Polluted Waters. Entry Forbidden.”
The baptism site is
smack in the middle of the border with Jordan. The IDF has designated the
location a “closed military zone” and visitors from Israel are required to
coordinate their entry with the army.
“Tourists are still able to baptize
themselves, but authorities are examining the makeup of the water,” a
spokeswoman from the Ministry of Tourism said. “At the moment, the
working with the Ministry of Health and the Nature and Parks Authority
that tourists can continue to visit the site.
“It is a very important
site,” she continued. “We will do everything we can to ensure that the
quality allows tourists to visit the site in the manner that they so
wish and to
enter the waters.”
Neglected for decades, the name of the site is Arabic
for “Castle of the Jews,” which is also the name of the 5th-century
Orthodox monastery there.
But since 2007, Israel has tried to bring
Christian tourists “down by the riverside” and has invested about $2
develop the site to allow wheelchair accessibility, shade, baptismal
other facilities. Entry is free.
There is a similar site closeby on the
Jordanian side of the river, but the West Bank side is considered holier
that’s the side Jesus likely used.
Officials from the Health Ministry
said they have demanded that the Nature and Parks Authority take samples
baptismal waters for testing, but they have yet to receive the
“This is a complicated issue which requires discussions on the
highest levels by the directors- general of relevant government
Health Ministry statement said.
“Until a final decision is made, there
will be no change in the directives of the ministry.”
The Nature and
Parks Authority continues to move ahead with restoration efforts,
plans to open the site to tourists without the need for coordination