Mine-fields-to-be-cleared-at-site-of-Jesus-baptism. QASR AL-YAHUD , West Bank, Land on the West Bank’s Jordan River, the site of abandoned churches and the presumed location of Jesus’ baptism, is about to be cleared of land mines.
The British non-profit organization HALO Trust received approval to remove the mines from the Israeli National Mine Action Authority, Palestinian officials and the eight Christian denominations represented by area churches. The approximately 5,000 mines are remnants of the Six-Day War of 1967, and their presence rings the long-closed churches near the city of Qasr al-Yahud.
The Trust, which specializes in mine clearing, will begin a campaign to raise $4 million for the 18-month project.
Although regarded as a holy Christian site, the land is ringed with barbed wire and signage in English, Hebrew and Arabic warning of mines laid nearly 50 years ago by Israeli and Jordanian troops. Although Jordan and Israel signed a peace accord in 1994, the mines were never removed, and many, notably anti-tank ordnance, sit visibly atop the ground. Some could still be active and dangerous and the unused churches could harbor more explosives.
“If we didn’t do it, these mines would be here forever. We can make that difference. We can make that go away,” said HALO Trust CEO James Cowan.
Some of the land was cleared when Pope John Paul II visited the area in 2000, and when a tourist center opened nearby in 2011.
Among those eager to see the mine-clearing begin is Theophilos III, Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem and Palestine, CNN reported. He visited the area as a teenager, before the war.
“It is a very special place. It is very much connected to the sacred history that began on Mount Sinai and the Prophet Moses and culminated here with the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem and his crucifixion and resurrection in Jerusalem,” the patriarch said.
Regarding the delay in clearing the land, he added, “This is the country of prophecies and prophets. Time is not that important. One thousand years, it can be one day in the eyes of God. Every time we celebrate epiphany, every time we celebrate Easter, it is as if the event happened yesterday.”
By Ed Adamczyk