Israel on Tuesday insisted that a site on the Jordan river reputed to be the spot where Jesus was baptised is “fit for baptism,” rejecting a claim water pollution has reached dangerous levels.
Bacteriological tests at Qasr al-Yehud “prove that the Jordan River water in the area is fit for baptism,” the military office in charge of administration of the occupied West Bank said in a statement.
“It should be noted that the test showed 88 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water whereas the relevant health ministry standard is 1,000 fecal coliform bacteria per 100 millilitres of water,” the statement said.
But Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) reiterated its call for baptisms to be banned at the lower Jordan River and dismissed the result of the test, pointing out that other tests have shown pollution levels to be far higher.
“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 environmentalist group said.
“The facts are that millions of cubic metres 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 recent years the flow of the river has slowed to a dirty trickle as fresh water running into the river has been replaced with sewage.
Qasr-al-Yahud is in a closed military area near the West Bank city of Jericho. In recent years the army has opened it to pilgrims on special occasions and there are plans to open it permanently.
“I am pleased that these tourists, who are so important to the state of Israel, will be able to continue visiting and using the site safely,” Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov said.
Jordan also runs a baptism site a few metres away, across the muddy river.
Jesus is believed to have entered the waters some 2,000 years ago to be baptised by John, who immersed his followers in the Jordan to symbolise their purification in the eyes of God.
Pointing out a coincidence.
Friends Of The Earth Middle East was founded by Jews and Muslims and has strong relationships with other Jewish / Muslim run organizations. Baptisms are one aspect of the Christian faith and thus do not feature in either the Jewish or Muslim religion.