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Jordan River called 'too polluted' for baptism pilgrims


Itamar Grinberg/RNS

Environmentalists say the dumping of sewage is endangering the Jordan River to the point of extinction. The river – the backdrop of so many biblical narratives – has been tainted with pollution that tumbles from large drainage pipes that flow into the river.

JERUSALEM (RNS/ENInews) — Concerns about pollution and water quality have prompted an environmental advocacy group to call for the banning of baptisms in the lower Jordan River, where the Bible says Jesus was baptized.

“For reasons of public health as well as religious integrity, baptism should be banned from taking place in the river,” said Gidon Bromberg, the Israeli director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East.

Israeli authorities said on July 27 that tests done on the water of the lower Jordan River show the popular site for baptismal ceremonies at Qasr el Yahud on the West Bank meets health ministry standards.

Bromberg, however, said the ceremonies should not take place until pollutants are removed from the water.

The site, inside an Israeli controlled military zone, faces another baptismal site on Jordan’s side of the river. Both sites attract pilgrims who come to the Holy Land, and both are claimed as the authentic site where John the Baptist baptized Jesus.

“Our call is to halt baptisms on both sides of the river. It is exactly the same polluted water,” said Bromberg.

Bromberg’s group says the river suffers from “severe mismanagement,” including the diversion of 98 percent of its fresh water to Israel, Syria and Jordan, as well as the discharge of untreated sewage and agricultural run-off.

The baptismal site on the Israeli side of the river was closed for one day July 26 but reopened on the next day, Bromberg said, while the Jordanian side was never closed; Jordan has not responded to the environmental group’s claims.

“If the same thing were happening to a Jewish or Muslim holy site there would be a public outcry,” Bromberg said.