Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) helped to facilitate baptism ceremonies for Christian worshippers from the Greek Orthodox and Ethiopian Orthodox denominations in the West Bank yesterday, in a visible demonstration of the Jewish State’s commitment to ensuring religious freedom.
According to a statement TV7 obtained from the IDF Unit for Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), it helped supervise the ceremony at the Qasr al-Yahud baptism site on the Jordan River yesterday with the Israel Nature and Parks Authority, under protection of the Israeli army and police.
The religious rites were performed under restrictions necessitated by COVID-19.
Christian tradition reveres Qasr al-Yahud as where Jesus was baptized, and it has long been a pilgrimage destination.
COGAT also helped to coordinate observance of the Epiphany holiday on Sunday (January 10) by friars at a century-old Franciscan church, which is among 6 others in the Land of the Monasteries about a kilometer (half-mile) from Qasr al-Yahud that had long been abandoned due to conflict.
The Epiphany celebration was the first such event in 54 years. The biblical riverbanks were once a war zone between Israel and Jordan, and unexploded ordnance long littered the vicinity. Even though the two neighbors signed a peace treaty in 1994, it took a massive effort to ensure clearance and defusal.
“This year, with the completion of a joint effort by the Ministry of Defense, the IDF, and the Civil Administration, the danger has been completely removed,” said COGAT.
“In recent weeks, [COGAT’s] Jericho District Coordination and Liaison (DCL) has coordinated with all the security forces and with the [Israeli] Ministry of Health in order to arrange for the baptism ceremony to be held as in normal years. The broader purpose was to allow for traditional ceremonies to be held within the coronavirus-imposed limitations while ensuring the freedom of worship and the security of the faithful,” added the statement.
DCL Head, Lieutenant Colonel Amos Twito, said: “COGAT’s Civil Administration has been especially busy in recent weeks arranging for the baptism ceremonies to be performed in keeping with the guidelines and restrictions. It’s all part of the effort to maintain freedom of worship and freedom of religion for all the Christian denominations while safeguarding the security and health of the worshippers.”
— By Erin Viner