May 6, 2009 – EcoPeace calls for Assurances for Palestinian Access to West Bank Baptism Site and Rehabilitation of the Lower Jordan River

EcoPeace Middle East Calls Upon Israeli Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom to Ensure Palestinian Access to the West Bank Baptism Site and Advance Commitments to Rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River

May 6, 2009
Bethlehem/ Tel Aviv

Prior to the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to the region, Israeli Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom announced on Israeli Radio that the “Kaser el Yehud”/ West Bank Baptism site, near Jericho, will be opened to the public. For hundreds of years, the baptism site was an important stop on pilgrimage itineraries through this region and a foundation of Jericho Municipality’s tourism-based economy.

“While we are pleased that the baptism site will once again be opened, allowing public access to the Jordan River at this site of great cultural and religious importance, we would object to the site’s development led by an Israeli settlement council at the expense of the Palestinian Authority and Jericho Municipality” said Nader Khateeb, EcoPeace’s Palestinian Director.

EcoPeace calls upon Israeli Regional Development Minister Silvan Shalom to ensure access for Palestinian tourism and economic development at the West Bank Baptism site. Furthermore, EcoPeace calls upon Israel and Jordan to meet their commitments to rehabilitate the Lower Jordan River as stipulated in the 1994 peace agreement.

“The 20,500 residents of Jericho are losing livelihood opportunities due to the inaccessibility of the baptism site and the polluted state of the river. The upcoming visit of Pope Benedict XVI provides an important opportunity for Israel and Jordan to re-commit to the Jordan River’s rehabilitation” said Gidon Bromberg, EcoPeace’s Israeli Director.

The Lower Jordan River is arguably the most famous River in the world, of international significance to more than half of humanity due to its rich natural and cultural heritage and its symbolic value and importance to the three monotheistic religions. Today, over 90% of the River’s historical flow is being diverted by Israel, Syria and Jordan for domestic and agricultural use.

EcoPeace has met with Quartet Representative Tony Blair and written to Pope Benedict XVI and local church officials to enlist their support in championing the cause of the Jordan River to ensure access and economic opportunities for local communities and the River’s rehabilitation.

For more information please visit www.ecopeaceme.org and contact:

– Nader Al Khateeb, Palestinian Director of EcoPeace Middle East
Tel: 972 522875022, [email protected] (spoken languages: English and Arabic)

– Gidon Bromberg, Israeli Director of EcoPeace Middle East
Tel: 972 52 4532597, [email protected] (spoken languages: English and Hebrew)

– Mira Edelstein, Foreign Media Officer, EcoPeace Middle East
Tel: 972 54 6392937, [email protected] (spoken languages: English and Hebrew)