Abu Dis, Epiphany at the Baptisal Site - Qaser el Yahud, on the Jordan River

Yael I., Ruth O. and Ilana D. (reporting)


Via French Hill to the

Jericho Road

Epiphany at the Baptismal Site (Qasr el Yahud) on the
Jordan River

10:00 AM till 2:00 PM


We changed our routine and since it was a glorious day and we had heard about the Epiphany ceremonies for the Orthodox Christian communities, we were anxious to see how Checkpoints can run differently.

On the way down we saw major earthmoving and vast construction where the new terminal/passage from Anata and the Shuafat refugee camp is built. It will probably also enable a security check for the light railway, which will pass nearby on its way from Pisgat Zeev into town.

Across from the entrance to the new Border Police compound on the left a new roundabout has been constructed and a Border Police jeep was parked near the entrance to Issawiya leading to the new detour to A-Tur from the East.

We turned left on the “Ghandi” Road  90 towards Beit Shean and right after Gerasimos to the Baptismal Site where usually a locked gate in the middle of the road is only opened after special arrangements with the Parks’ Authority and the army. Now the fences were wide open and half-way the
Jordan River an improvised parking lot with chemical toilets was set up. Despite our advanced age we were only allowed to continue on foot, since the few places down at the baptismal site were reserved for the bishops.

About half of the parked cars and buses had Palestinian license plates. The churches at the site have been looted by reservists in the course of the occupation. They are now slowly being restored. On the Jordanian side the churches are well kept and we even saw a gold-covered tower. Down at the bottom we encountered a happy crowd of Christian Arabs and soldiers who acted more like tourists than occupiers. There were more chemical toilets and souvenir stands, mostly manned by staff of the Parks’ Authority which apparently has taken over the organization of the event on the Israeli side. Across the river we saw some Jordanian soldiers on the surrounding hills

As we walked down towards the water we encountered men and women who had taken a dip in the muddy water and were now changing into dry clothes, wringing out their wet gear and collecting the drops of water from it. Most were nuns. The river is narrow and hardly one meter deep (there is a pole to measure its depth). On the Jordanian side people were crowding on a platform above the river and threw a white dove into the water. They were waving across and through a loudspeaker we heard blessing to the Jews, which were answered by blessings to King Abdullah. After a rather long speech by the Jordanian leader across the river, he threw a cross, adorned with flowers, three times into the water and pulled it out again. It was dripping with muddy water, which was thrown over the cheering crowd, which caught the drops.

On the Israeli side a tiny part of the river was reserved for immersion and we saw a few nuns going in. Then the Syriac Piper Band (scouts from
in their exotic costumes) played on their bagpipes to mark the end of the ceremony and the people across the river dispersed. However on the Israeli side more Christians still arrived and there were a few buses with Israeli Jews who were eager to observe an event which shows that all can be so different. What a shame the Epiphany is only two days a year.