Seems that Israel's Ministry for Tourism has come up with, what we sardonically called, "a better idea".
Next year, some three million tourists will discover a new "Pilgrim's Route" leading from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. Along the way, they will be able to visit the site where the New Testament story of the Good Samaritan took place; the Qumran caves; and the site where, according to the New Testament, John the Baptist baptized Jesus.
"We're in the process of opening the Good Samaritan site to the general public, and the baptismal site is undergoing an accelerated process of development," said a senior official in the Civil Administration, which is responsible for all West Bank tourism sites under Israeli control. "We hope that in 2009, we will open first the Good Samaritan [site], and after that Qasr al-Yehud."
And Shai Weiner, the Ministry's deputy director general for economics, planning and infrastructure, has admitted that so far some NIS 3.5 million has been invested in that baptismal site with the Defense Ministry investing about another NIS 1 million to improve the access road.
Oni Amiel, CEO of Amiel Tours, which specializes in Christian pilgrims, is quoted as saying that it is about time Israel began competing with the Jordanian site. "There's an enormous flow of tourists there," he said. "It's important that the site on our side also be respectable."
This is a great idea. However, there are many Jewish sites in that same area of Judea and Samaria that Christians can and do relate to just as much as the so-called "Christian sites". Remember, at the time, they were all "Jewish sites". The New Testament, as I have pointed out, Acts 8:1, refers not to the "West Bank" but to "Judea and Samaria". There's a lot of potential for tourism in Shiloh, Beth-El and other Biblical locations. Let's all benefit from this new policy.