While driving up Israeli Highway 90 along the west bank of the river Jordan from the Dead Sea to Galilee last Friday, I passed the turnoff to the actual site on the river Jordan where St John the Baptist baptised Christ. I really couldn’t miss the place where the Holy Spirit descended on Christ in the form of a dove and God said he was pleased with his son, so I turned down the road, and drove towards the Jordan.
Half way to the river, I found this
The Israeli army had erected a barrier preventing anyone from continuing down the road to the river, with barbed wired etc, and a sign saying “Military Area. No Photography” or some such. (The area was closed to visitors from the 1967 war until 2010, but it was supposed to have been open since then). There was nobody there, but as being arrested by the Israeli military in the middle of the West Bank is not my preferred activity on a Friday evening – they are probably particularly annoyed when you ruin their Shabbat – I really didn’t want to take any risks. Thus I drove drove some distance back down the road before turning around to take photographs, and then only used the camera in my phone, which makes it less obvious what I am doing than holding up my digital SLR. I don’t know the reason for the closure: possibly just that the River Jordan is in some sense the border (although in this part of the world, who the fuck knows where the border is?) and they don’t want people too close to it.
In any even, in truth I didn’t want to stay too close to it for too long either. The Israeli built and controlled highways are safe enough. Highway 90 is by far the shortest route from south-east Israel to north-east Israel – which was why I was driving on it – but it was clearly built principally for security purposes. In the event of another war, the Israeli army can undoubtedly be mobilised along it very rapidly. However, being off the highway with a car carrying Israeli plates is probably best avoided.