Health Ministry calls to shut down Qasr al-Yahud site in Jordan River – where Jesus is believed to have been baptized – due to heavy water pollution, raw sewage

Amir Ben-David, Yedioth Ahronoth
Published: 07.22.10, 08:23 / Israel Activism

The baptismal site at Qasr al-Yahud near Jericho is one of the holiest sites for Christianity. According to Christian faith, Jesus was baptized at that site over 2,000 years ago by John the Baptist.

Currently, the site is located between Israel and Jordan’s border fences, and is accessible only with a military permit and escort. The negligence by the Israeli authorities led the Jordanians to open their own baptismal site, although according to tradition the Israeli side is holier because it was there that Jesus descended into the water.

Holy Mission
Pilgrims dip in Jordan River under heavy security / Shmulik Grossman
Thousands of Christians head to site where John the Baptist believed to have baptized Jesus

The southern Jordan River has been damaged years ago, after Israel, Jordan and Syria built dams that block its water sources. A plan to salvage the Dead Sea and the Jordan River by flowing water from the southern Galilee Sea has been put off by claims that the water will be “robbed” by the Jordanians and Syrians.

And in fact, after long years of negligence, recent lab tests show that the River’s waters contain a high level of fecal bacteria originating from the sewage pipe, in levels often exceeding the current standard set by the Health Ministry.

The Tourism Ministry has attempted in the past two years to promote the tourist destination and invested in the development of the Kaser el Yahud site. Officials at the Health Ministry, on the other hand, believe the site should be closed for baptisms, due to the possible health risks.

The Health Ministry said it would instruct the Nature and Parks Authority to place signs, warning visitors of the polluted waters and prohibiting them to bathe at the site.

“The site is under the responsibility of the Nature and Parks Authority and military authorities. The Health Ministry urged the Nature and Parks Authority to test samples of the water used for baptisms, but the results have yet to be received,” a Health Ministry official told the Yedioth Ahronot daily.

“It is a complex matter that requires a discussion in the highest echelons, including the Directors of the relevant ministries. Until we reach a final decision, the Health Ministry will maintain its instructions,” he said.

The Tourism Ministry said in response, “The Ministry has invested more than NIS 8 million (about $2 million) to improve the site, which is visited by more than 100,000 tourists annually.

:The Tourism Ministry is in touch with the Health Ministry and the Nature and Parks Authority and is expecting to find solutions that will allow people to continue baptizing in the river without risking their health and without turning them away to the Jordanian side instead.”,7340,L-3923047,00.html