Friends of the Earth Middle East Response to Statement of Israeli Civil Administration as Regards Baptism at the Qasr el Yehud Site on the Lower Jordan River

Tel Aviv / July 27, 2010
Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is saddened to maintain its call that baptism be banned from taking place on both sides of the Jordan River at the Qasr el Yehud / Bethany Beyond the Jordan site. Baptism should take place in clean healthy water which unfortunately does not describe the current state of the Lower Jordan River.

“The facts are that millions of cubic meters of untreated sewage from domestic sources in Israel, Jordan and Palestine including from toilets are presently being released either directly into the Lower Jordan River or indirectly through disposal into cesspits”, said Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of FoEME.

In addition to the domestic sewage, untreated agricultural runoff carrying pesticides and fertilizers and effluents from fish farms are all dumped into the river.

“The level of bacteriological contamination of the river will naturally vary from hour to hour as we are talking about a river that is flowing, (albeit slowly). The apparent discrepancy between the test mentioned in the statement of the Israeli Civil Administration released today (July 27) and a test earlier in the week referred to by the Israeli Ministry of Health, that led to the closing of baptism at the site in the first place, testifies to this point”, added Dr. Sarig Gafny, Head of the Department of Marine Sciences at Ruppin Academic Center in Israel.

The apparent discrepancy is not due to any improvement in water quality but due to the dynamic nature of a moving body of water. The untreated sewage flow upstream has not ceased nor was any fresh water released into the river by Israeli or Jordanian authorities.

FoEME acknowledges that Israel is presently building sewage treatment facilities that if completed on time will remove all Israeli sources of domestic sewage from the river by the end of 2011. The fact is though that all sources of pollution from all sides of the river need to be removed and be replaced with adequate quantities of freshwater if the river is to be described as healthy for baptism.

“Until the sewage and other pollutants are removed from the lower Jordan River and are replaced by the release of fresh water FoEME believes that for reasons of public health as well as religious integrity, baptism should be banned from taking place in the river”, said Gidon Bromberg.

FoEME repeats its earlier calls for an urgent meeting of government representatives from Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, including Water, Environment and Health Ministries to discuss the rehabilitation of the river.

With the new interest expressed from Ministers of Tourism as to the quality of Jordan River water, due no doubt to the concerns for loss of economic opportunities, perhaps they will help lead the political will urgently needed to rehabilitate the Lower River Jordan.

For more information please call:
Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of Friends of the Earth Middle East, T +972 52 4532597 , (spoken languages: English and Hebrew)
Dr. Sarig Gafny, Head of the Department of Marine Sciences, Ruppin Academic Center, T +972 52 8761856 (spoken languages: English and Hebrew)

For more information on the current state of the Lower Jordan River please see FoEME’s Environmental Flow Report issued in May 2010 at this webpage: