04-15-2020 CBN Emily Jones
Members of the Eritrean and Ethiopian Christian Orthodox community baptized in the waters of the Jordan River during a baptism ceremony as part of the Orthodox Feast of the Epiphany at Qasr el Yahud (AP photo)
JERUSALEM, Israel – Every year, Christian pilgrims come to the Jordan River to get baptized at a site called Qasr al Yahud, meaning “The Castle of the Jews” in Arabic. It is believed to be the same spot where John the Baptist baptized Jesus. It’s also the location believed to be where the Israelites crossed into the Promised Land and the Prophet Elijah ascended to heaven.
For decades, part of this holy site was blocked off because it was laced with deadly mines leftover from the Six-Day War and other conflicts. Seven churches own property here but were blocked off due to the dangerous mines and booby traps the Israeli military planted there during times of war.
This week, Israel announced that the site is completely mine-free for the first time in 53 years thanks to a massive project led by the Israel Defense Ministry to get rid of them. Related
The Israel National Mine Action Authority (INMAA), under the Ministry of Defense, worked with the HALO Trust, a British-based international non-profit organization to clear the mines.
“The demining of the baptism site – a place significant to so many – is such a unique and wonderful opportunity. The cleaning and releasing of these lands and the ability to return them to their religious guardians is a project we take great pride in,” INMAA Director Marcel Aviv said when the project began.
A little over a year later, just in time for Easter, the area is safe for Christian pilgrims.
While the country is empty of tour groups due to the coronavirus outbreak right now, Israeli authorities are looking forward to the day when Christian tourists will be able to come back and learn about their rich history at this site.
“I hope that this garden that was left 50 years ago will be green again and all of us will be happy to visit here and to see this amazing area,” said Moshe Hilman, Supervisor of the Israel National Mine Action Authority.
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