As part of the recent visit by Australian journalist Chris Hammer, author of The River, a book on the Murray-Darling River, Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) organized tours of both sides of the Lower Jordan River to better acquaint the visiting expert with the river, its environment and political context. The post below describes the tour that took place along the Eastern Bank of the Lower Jordan River, and highlights the Valley’s rich cultural and natural heritage sites.
Earlier this month, FoEME’s Amman office organized a special tour of the Lower Jordan River’s Eastern Bank for visiting expert Chris Hammer, as well as Australian Embassy representatives, and a member of the Jordanian Parliament.
The tour left Amman in the early morning. After a first stop at the Wadi Al Arab dam, a gathering place for migratory birds, the bus continued on its journey north. Driving into the steep, green Yarmouk valley, the bus arrived in the municipality of Al-Hemma, a village on the Jordanian side of the Jordanian-Syrian border. Every house in the village still has a bed and breakfast facility, reminding us of times when the village was used by many visitors coming from all over to experience the area’s natural hot-springs. Throughout the village, pool-like structures full of hot water with their adjacent smaller jaccuzzi-like basins, and desolate diving boards are still to be seen. Yousef, a local resident working as a field researcher with FoEME, hopes for peace and a revival of tourism. Despite the current situation, he is developing a visitor’s center with access to hot-springs and a shady resting area. His entrepreneurial initiative is one example of how valley residents could possibly profit from the development of sustainable tourism in the region.
A little further, we reach the beating heart of the Jordanian tomato and cucumber production: the diversion dam. Here, part of the Yarmouk River is diverted into the King Abdullah Canal- which is over 110 kilometers and runs through the Jordan River Valley. As the water flows south parallel to the Lower Jordan River itself, farmers utilize its waters to irrigate their produce.
The next stop at the Bakoura area left a lasting impression with all visitors. The vast site, now a military-controlled region, is isolated and quiet. Waving fields of tall green grass were dotted with wildflowers. Large storks circled above us and massive concrete-remains of the electric power-plant which used to supply power to both sides of the Lower Jordan River dot the landscape. We pass the former homes of the powerplant’s workers and walk over a little path to the three bridges.
While still standing, the Roman, Ottoman, and British Mandate bridges at the site no longer function as a crossing over the Jordan. Standing on the arch of the Roman bridge, we look over to the little visitor’s center and seating platform built on the Israeli side to explain the site’s significance and FoEME’s vision.
The area’s rich shared cultural and natural heritage has been identified by FoEME as an ideal location for a potential trans-boundary peace park. FoEME hopes to re-flood part of the area’s former dam basin to create a wetland to attract some of the 500 million migratory birds that traverse the Jordan Valley’s migratory flyway twice annually, restore buildings for a museum and guest houses, and re-open the bridges so visitors can enjoy both sides of the Jordan in an enclosed area.
After a walk and rest at FoEME’s Sharhabil Bin Hassneh EcoPark, Chris Hammer crossed over to explore the western bank of the Lower Jordan with members of FoEME’s Tel Aviv and Bethlehem offices. It was a tour that no one would ever forget.
To organize a visit these and more sites along the banks of the Lower Jordan River – or to explore them yourself download FoEME’s Neighbors Path brochures.