Sunday, August 08, 2010

Friends of the Earth Middle East says Jordan River polluted:
not suitable for Baptism
by Peter Menkin

In a surprising story to this writer, Ecumenical News International reports it is a bad idea to visit the Jordan River for Baptisms. This will interest San Francisco Bay Area Pilgrims who may be planning on visiting the Jordan River in the near future. Who is the environmental organization? Time magazine in 2008 called the Middle East organization’s three directors Environmental Heroes.

EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East describe this about themselves on their website: Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) is a unique organization that brings together Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli environmentalists. Our primary objective is the promotion of cooperative efforts to protect our shared environmental heritage. In so doing, we seek to advance both sustainable regional development and the creation of necessary conditions for lasting peace in our region. FoEME has offices in Amman, Bethlehem, and Tel-Aviv. FoEME is a member of Friends of the Earth International.

The surprising report by the environmental organization warns, according to ENI:

Lower Jordan River, where the Bible
says Jesus was Baptized: polluted.
Health concerns relating to water quality have triggered 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 Israel director of EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME), which has offices in Tel Aviv, Bethlehem, and Amman. Israeli authorities said on 27 July 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 said, however, they should not take place until pollutants are removed from the water.

In the Great Rift Valley this cultural, religious and georgraphically important river is important to billions of people, the report says. People in their diversity of religions, countries worldwide are under threat. Fresh water is being diverted, 98 percent of it, and discharges of “large quantities of untreated sewage…threatens to irreversibly damage the River Valley.” The upper stream waters have been diverted for domestic and agricultural uses, and the result is a once thriving ecosystem is left with precious little fresh water.

Genesis 13:10-11 refers to the beauty of the Jordan Valley.
Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord.
Who is interested and why? Friends of the Earth Middle East answers, “The River Jordan is mentioned in several stories of the Old Testament. Genesis 13:10-11 refers to the beauty of the Jordan Valley: "And Lot lifted up his eyes, and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord." The river is also closely associated with the life of Jesus Christ, where he has been traditionally thought to have been baptized along its banks. Although the exact site of the Baptism of Jesus is disputed, hundreds of thousands of tourists flock each year to sites on either side of the river to be close to the original site…”

In their report, the environmental organization believes the river “need no longer be a symbol of separation.” They offer ideas for the interaction between “peoples, cultures…” to promote prosperity and peace for the Jordan River Valley.

The objectives include sustainable and environmentally friendly tourism, as they define it. This is a significant objective of the organization. They desire “sustainable and organic agriculture in a cross border and cooperative atmosphere.”

As part of their plan, they desire:

... the establishment of micro-credit programs. Farmers, small local investors, women and youth could benefit from these grants to start small businesses, to establish family-run guesthouses, to open women's and youth associations, and to improve farming methods and marketing.

Many Churches are familiar with the kind of outreach that encourages micro-credit programs. The report on the environmental problems and the environmental organization’s recommendations is found here.

Photos courtesy: Friends of the Earth Middle East.

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