Israeli Baptism Area Threatened by Poor Water Quality
In recent years Israel has been developing a southern baptism site on the Jordan River in the Jericho area. The country of Jordan opened a counterpart on the eastern side nearly a decade ago. But the poor quality of the water threatens to close the site before it officially opens. From the Jerusalem Post:
The site where tradition holds Jesus was baptized is in danger of being declared off-limits to pilgrims because of pollution in the Jordan River.
Qasar al-Yahud, a few miles from where the biblical river spills into the Dead Sea, has drawn over 100,000 tourists each year, most of whom are Christian pilgrims who wish to undergo a baptism like their savior did 2,000 years ago -- and in the very same spot.
But drought and irrigation have turned the mighty lower Jordan River into a stagnant stream as it makes it way from the Sea of Galilee. The brook then swells with raw sewage as it passes nearby Jericho. Israeli health officials are reportedly considering erecting signs warning: “Polluted Waters. Entry Forbidden.”
Neglected for decades, the name of the site is Arabic for “Castle of the Jews,” which is also the name of the 5th century monastery. But since 2007, Israel has tried to bring Christian tourists ‘down by the riverside’ and has invested about $2 million to develop the site in order to allow wheelchair accessibility, shade, baptismal decks and other facilities. Entry is free. There is a similar site close-by on the Jordanian side, but the west bank side is considered holier since that’s the side Jesus likely used.
Despite the heath risks, the Nature and Parks Authority continues to move ahead with restoration efforts including plans to open the site to tourists without the need for coordination with the military.
The JPost article is accompanied by a photo, the caption of which reads, “Pilgrims dunk themselves in stagnant sewage.” The photo, however, was taken at the northern site of Yardenit, where the water quality is good.