JERUSALEM (JTA) — A baptism site in the lower Jordan River is in danger of being closed due to pollution.
Israel’s Ministry of Health has urged the Ministry of Tourism and the Nature and Parks Authority to ban baptism in the lower Jordan River due to the serious health risks from the highly polluted water.
Most of the river’s fresh water is diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan; untreated sewage, agricultural runoff and saline water are returned in its place.
The environmental group EcoPeace/Friends of the Earth Middle East called on regional authorities to stop the baptisms until water quality standards for tourism activities are met.
"Attempts of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism and Israeli Nature and Parks Authority to lower health standards in order to enable baptism in the Jordan are completely unacceptable," said Gidon Bromberg, the group’s Israeli director. "The issue is one of public health not to be compromised by short-term economic interests."
Jesus is believed to have been baptized in the Jordan River by John, who immersed his followers to symbolize their purity before God. More than 100,000 tourists visit the site near Jericho each year.