Qasr al-Yahud
Qasr al-YahudIsrael News photo: IDF Spokesperson

A Jordan-based group is threatening to file a lawsuit against Israel in the International Criminal Court over its opening of the baptismal site Qasr al-Yahud near the Jordan River.

The group, which calls itself “The Arab Union to Resist the Expulsion of Arab Christians”, is headed by the speaker of the Jordanian senate, Taher al-Masri, and includes Muslim and Christian officials from around the Arab world.

The group is upset over the fact that on July 12, Israel held an official ceremony to mark the opening of Qasr al-Yahud, the site which is known as the place where Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and which is considered the third holiest site in Christianity.

A report last year by Israel’s Ministry of Health said that there is a higher than permitted level of harmful bacteria at the site, caused by a drought as well as from raw sewage which fills the river and when the waters pass PA-controlled Jericho. The Health and Tourism Ministries began working together, along with the Nature and Parks Authority, in order to examine the makeup of the water and find ways to improve its quality.

The group threatening the lawsuit seems to be following up on measures already taken against Israel by the Jordanian government on this issue.

The Jordanian government was angry over the re-opening of the site, claiming it is located in its territory and that the Vatican recognizes this fact, emphasizing that Pope John Paul II took part in the opening ceremony of the Jordanian side of the site in 2000.

Jordan accused Israel of trying to distort history and trying to attract Christian tourism to its side of the Jordan River. Jordan’s anger, however, is likely due to the fact that it is trying to compete with Israel over Christian tourists and is concerned that Israel’s opening of the site, which attracts over 100,000 tourists each year, will hurt Jordanian tourism.

Jordan’s Minister of Tourism and Archaeology recently announced that the Jordanian government has sent a letter to the Vatican in which it claimed that Israel has “violated international law and international conventions by setting up a site called Qasr al-Yahud and holding a ceremony in the presence of some streams of Christianity, in order to provoke Jordan and mislead the world about the true location of the baptism site on Jordanian land.”

The letter goes on to say that “this serious violation is a provocation to Jordan and the Vatican’s recognition that Jesus’ baptism site is located on the Jordanian side. In addition, Israel’s move is contrary to international law, since it’s not just a false claim, but the site was also established on lands that are considered occupied under international law.”

In addition to the letter, Jordan has also changed the name of the site on its territory so that it emphasizes that the Jordanian site is the real, official site where Jesus was baptized.