29 October, 2009

Sights from the River Jordan

A few kilometers from Amman, about 20 km., is the River Jordan with its many Holy sites. From Amman, it is downhill and it gets warmer and then hotter - fast, as one nears the River; the result of being at one of the lowest point on Earth - about 350m. - below sea level. At the entrance, below, it is hot; and there are many flies. But like the many tourists I and my wife found there, we were very excited at the site. To preserve the site, the visitors' entrance is some distance from the main attraction; and you have to board a bus from the entrance, disembark after a few minutes and then be escorted through the site by a guide.
Sight from the River Jordan
The Baptism site of Jesus, which in Arabic is called Al Maghtas, is said to be by the side of this River. It was only after Jordan's peace treaty with Israel in 1994, that excavations began here and much has been uncovered since: caves, churches and more - dating back to thousands of years.
Sight from the River Jordan
Having spent my childhood, youth and much of my early manhood in one of the most watery and greenest regions on Earth, the River Jordan, to me, was most unimpressive. It looked more like a very small, useless stream. But, this River has so much significance and power - that millions revere it and wars have been fought over it; the river still remains a contentious and at times an explosive issue, for the nations of the area.
Sight from the River Jordan
The first stop on the tour was Elijah's Hill of churches, caves and baptism pools. According to Christians - here: Jesus is said to have been baptized by John; Elijah is said to have ascended to heaven and it is where the Israelite, lead by Joshua, first crossed to the 'Promised Land', it is where St. Mary the Egyptian lived and it is where many other early holy Christian figures are said to have lived.
Sight from the River Jordan
In January 2000 more than 40,000 people gathered at this site along with many world church leaders; and shortly after it was officially declared by the Armenian church that this site was the actual location of the baptism of Jesus. The site is now legally run by the National Jordanian Park.
Sight from the River Jordan
The above plaque reads: 'The chapels built on the eastern side of the river during the Baptism period (5th-6th centuries AD) include three churches built over each other and decorated with colored mosaic and marble flooring. A marble staircase links three churches with "John the Baptist Spring" at this spot where it flows into the River Jordan. A stone footing hosting a marble column with a metal cross on top is though to be the actual baptism site of Jesus Christ according to different historians and travelers. A small chapel and remnants of a stone arch near the river were built over the spot where Jesus Christ supposedly unrobed before entering the water to be baptized by John.'
Sight from the River Jordan
During this visit, my and my wife's through the site, we didn't know we were the cause of some concern to some of the tourists we were with; and to the Jordanian security personnel. We learnt later that some of the tourists we were with, were nervous. Reason: we were Muslims and my wife was fully covered and veiled. We later were told that, it is very rare for Muslims to visit the Baptism site and it was even most rare for a Muslim veiled woman to do so; a taxi driver on the site who has worked there since guided tours started, later told us that in all his years there, never has a veiled Muslim woman been inside the site. Some of the tourists wrongly thought that we could be terrorists, and maybe we had bombs on our bodies - especially my black, clad wife; on the other hand, the Jordanian security personnel were some how concerned with the oddity of our being there. Later when I thought of it, I could very much understand their concern.
Sight from the River Jordan
At the entrance of the site, we had boarded a bus-truck with four long benches at the back; each two benches faced each other. On the bus, we sat facing two elderly American women and next to us were Spanish and Lebanese families with their children. Thinking of it later, the Americans seemed very nervous; but the Spaniards and the Lebanese weren't; the Spaniards even chatted with us. 
Sight from the River Jordan
The drive was short and then we got off the bus and were guided by an escort, who was very friendly. On foot through the site, the guide kept describing and explaining the different places. All along, we were very close to the tourists; little did we know, then, that we were causing concern and nervousness to some.
Sight from the River Jordan
But then: little did the other tourists know about us. To them, we were Arabs, Muslims and as my wife was completely covered - we seemed very conservative; and to some of the tourists, we could be dangerous. I don't blame them at all, nor the Jordanian security officers for thinking so. If only they had known that, though we were conservative Muslims, we had no hatred whatsoever against Christians or any other religion; both I and my wife had many years of our lives in Christian schools. And both I and my wife, have many very close Christian relatives and friends. We understand Christianity and the Christian story of Jesus.
Sight from the River Jordan
A short distance from the River Jordan, is a newly built church dedicated to John the Baptist.
Sight from the River Jordan
When we reached the church, we found a black robed priest, who looked like an Arab, at the door; who, on seeing me and my robed, veiled wife, I could sense that he was not happy at all.
Sight from the River Jordan
All the tourists entered the church, but my wife sensing the priest's reaction, decided to remain outside - while I went in. I have been inside churches before and I didn't find it strange inside; like the other tourists, I too - took many pictures of the many murals on the walls and the other ornaments inside the church.
Sight from the River Jordan
All the while, the priest was seated by the door and whenever our eyes would meet - he seemed to glare at me.
Sight from the River Jordan
I believe, priests of whatever religion - being people of God and peace, should be welcoming and friendly to all; irrespective of religion, race, color or nationality.
Sight from the River Jordan
The River Jordan, seemed to me, very little and contaminated. From the Sea of Galilee, it flows for about 220 km. and since the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War, Israel controls most of the River's water.
Sight from the River Jordan
Dams have been built and most of the water is drained for irrigation and other purposes - the result: the River is slowly dying and the magical Dead Sea, further ahead, is shrinking too. 
Sight from the River Jordan
Waste is being dumped in to the River mainly from Israeli factories and kibbutzes and what we see here now, is a river of polluted waste-water - treated and untreated. 
Sight from the River Jordan
At this point where I took these photos, with the Israeli flag flying on the West Bank and the men on the other side probably being Israelis - the River is barely 5 meters wide, instead of its average 10 meters.

Against the wishes of the International community, Israel continues to control the Palestinian West Bank and to expand settlements there. In a report just released, Amnesty International  says Israel denies Palestinians the right to access adequate water by maintaining total control over the shared water resources and pursuing discriminatory policies........... Israel allows the Palestinians access to only a fraction of the shared water resources, which lie mostly in the occupied West Bank, while the unlawful Israeli settlements there receive virtually unlimited supplies.
Sight from the River Jordan
The occupied West Bank has about 2.3 million Palestinians and about 450,000 Israelis. Israel has appropriated large areas of the water-rich Palestinian land it occupies and barred Palestinians from accessing them. It has also imposed a complex system of permits which the Palestinians must obtain from the Israeli army and other authorities in order to carry out water-related projects in the OPT. Applications for such permits are often rejected or subject to long delays.......In comparison, irrigation sprinklers water the fields in the midday sun in nearby Israeli settlements, where much water is wasted as it evaporates before even reaching the ground. 

Meanwhile: in Jordan, despite Jordan's severe water scarcity, more than 97% of Jordanians have access to an improved water source and 93% have access to improved sanitation. This is one of the highest rates in the Middle East and North Africa. However, water supply is intermittent and it is common to store water in rooftop tanks. The country seeks to increase cost recovery and efficiency of the water and sanitation sector through a number of new laws, a new tariff system, and a National Water Master Plan. 


+ Other Wonderful Places in the Kingdom of Jordan:
The Dead Sea
The Citadel
The Roman Theater
* Jerash
Petra
Kahaf Ahl Kahf