By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
An environmental group is trying to disrupt Holy Land tours to the river Jordan by saying the waters are too polluted to be used for baptisms.
Fox News is reporting that an environmental group known as Friends of the Earth is claiming that the waters of the Jordan River contain high levels of coliform bacteria from raw sewage being dumped into the river, making it unsafe for bathing.
“We’ve known for a long time that these waters are not healthy,” Friends of the Earth’s Gidon Bromberg told Reuters. “For most of the year they are four times more polluted than Israeli standards would permit. People who baptize in these waters presently, if they have a cut in their skin, could quickly develop a rash. If they swallow any of the water they could develop a stomach upset and start vomiting,” he said.
However, water tests released this week by Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority prove otherwise.
“There’s absolutely no problem with the quality of the water,” said the Authority’s Eli Dror. “People can come and baptize here as much as they want, I guarantee it.”
Referring to water quality assessment statistics, Dror explained that the Lower Jordan contains large quantities of saline water from the upper Galilee, farm runoff, water from fish farms and partially treated sewage from a buried pipe, but not “raw sewage” as charged by environmentalists.
Tour operators agree that it would be preposterous for authorities to allow such an important pilgrimage destination – the site of Jesus’ baptism – to become dangerously polluted.
“This site is one of the most important, most holy sites of the Christian people and they come from all over the world, so we’re investing a lot of money to prepare it,” said Raphael Ben-Hur, an official with the Senior Ministry of Tourism. “It would be crazy to allow pilgrims to immerse themselves in pollution.”
Dror said he believes the allegations are a part of a scare campaign designed to promote the wider agenda of the environmentalist group – to get Israel and Jordan to restore a third of the river’s inflow from Galilee and return the river to better health.
Israeli officials strongly deny any problem and say they have received no health complaints from anyone who has been baptized in the river.
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