By Alfa Ellita -
QASR EL-YAHUD – Israel has opened up what is believed to be the original baptism sight of Jesus Christ to the public. This proved a challenging endeavor with the Israeli military joining the task. The military tediously and carefully removed mines that lay nearby in the West Bank along the border of Jordan. This particular site is where many believe that John the Baptist baptized Jesus Christ. The Jordan River is a very important site for Christians worldwide.
Until recently, the baptism site was only opened periodically throughout the year in coordination with the Israeli military. Because of the location, it was not opened to the public on a regular basis, since the Israeli military captured it from Jordan with the rest of the West Bank during the Mideast War in 1967. Sadly, the war in left the site with numerous land mines while laying along hostile territory until Jordan and Israel in 1994, signed a peace treaty.
Today, this site sits amid leftover minefields near an Israeli military post located in the Jordan Valley. The famous river, as depicted in the Bible, sits afar in dusty vegetation on a desert moonscape. Ten meters (yards) of water, separates the baptism site on the side that is controlled by Israel and a baptism site located in Jordan on the other bank.
There is great hope that the site will entice Christian tourists. This hope is fueled with the increasing number of Christians visiting Israel over the recent years. Tourists visiting Israel are primarily Christians. A smaller number of tourists have stated they were experiencing a religious pilgrimage according to the Israel Tourism Ministry.
Renovating the site has come with a hefty price tag of $2.3 million dollars along with removal of nearby landmines. The official opening ceremony was attended by representatives of Christian denominations in the Holy Land along with the Israeli minister for regional development Silvan Shalom.
Sadly, there were no representatives from Palestine or Jordan attending the ceremony with publicly objecting to the opening of the site. The Palestine government objects to developing the West Bank by Israel due to their desire of establishing an independent state. “This is a site in the occupied territories, and whatever Israeli authorities are doing on Palestinian sites we consider illegal and part of seizures related to the occupation and Israel’s monopoly over our historic and touristic resources,” said Khouloud Daibes, the Palestinian tourism minister. Jordan stubbornly maintains that their site on the other side of the river is the actual place where Jesus Christ was baptized hoping to attract Christian tourism.
A representative of the Greek Orthodox Patriarch named Metropolitan Isykhios, called on the country of Israel to remove thousands of land mines, which lay nearby. Addressing Shalom, the Cabinet minister in his speech stated, “We have a request for the minister — that they clear the mines from the way in, and turn this into an area of peace, and not an area of occupation and mines.”