Tourism expected to surge as 1,500 landmines are removed from Jordan River’s shore, with remaining 5,000 hopefully gone by next Christmas.
For 50 years, John has baptized Jesus in private.
But last week on the western bank of the Jordan River, landmines were cleared to allow visitors a first look at a faded fresco of the baptism in a crumbling Ethiopian Orthodox monastery.
Trudging through mud while avoiding well-marked areas warning of live charges remaining from the Six-Day War, intrepid pilgrims once again received iconic witness of the beloved Son.
“Israel placed the mines between 1967 and 1971 because there was a war,” Marcel Aviv, head of the Israel National Mine Action Authority, a branch of the Defense Ministry, told the Times of Israel, standing a few hundred yards from Jordan.
“But now it’s empty because it’s a border of peace.”
Israel partially reopened the Qasr al-Yahud baptismal site in 2011. But visitors could only trek a narrow path from the Greek Orthodox St. John the Baptist Monastery to the Jordan River.
Their number has steadily grown, with the Epiphany holiday—observed on January 18—a particularly popular draw.
Last year, more than 590,000 visitors came, according to Israeli newspaper Haaretz. So far in 2018, more than 800,000. Once the landmines are fully cleared, Aviv believes the number will triple.
De-mining began in earnest in March, though the initial agreement between the churches, the Israeli government, and the Palestinian Authority was signed in May 2016.
A team of 22 Georgian minesweepers has so far removed 1,500 of an estimated 6,500 targets, rendering safe 50 out of 250 acres of land.
Now accessible along the one-mile stretch of historic churches are properties belonging to the Greek, Franciscan, and Ethiopian Orthodox. Clearance still awaits for the Russian, Syrian, Romanian, and Coptic …
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