The Jordan River
Restoration, Conservation & Development
This proposal seeks to promote peace and cooperation between Israel and Jordan by rehabilitating the Jordan River, the common border of the two countries. We propose to implement the project in the northern section of the river- the segment of the river that begins at the Yarmuch River outlet.
Continues through Naharaim Bridge and ends at the Beit Shean Valley/ This section of the Jordan River is impressive, both in terms of topography and archaeology. The winding curves of the river, flanked by diverse flora and fauna, serve as a backdrop for numerous sites of historical and religious interest, such as:
The Belawaire Castle, Beit Shean, Tel Yishmael and Tel Maluach. Along with the developing tourist sites, such as the Hugla springs and Beit Shean, we hope that this spectacular ecosystem will constitute a focal point for Israeli-Jordanian cooperation; a cooperation which will revolve around the rehabilitation of the Jordan River.
The Jordan River
The Jordan River is one of the most distinctive symbols of the Land of the Bible and it figures prominently in the historical and cultural traditions of the region. As described by john McGregor at the end of the 19th century: “There is no other river whose name can be found on the tongues of so many, over so long a time period and geographic breadth, as the river Jordan”/ In fact’ this sentiment is reflected in the bedrock of western collective consciousness: The people of Israel crossed the Jordan River upon entering the Promised Land – an event which symbolized the entrance into the Holy land.
It also accounts for why Christianity chose the Jordan River as the site for baptismal and purification rituals/ In light of the river’s profound religious, historical and cultural heritage, it only seems natural that it serves as a focal point for cooperation between the State of Israel and the Hashemite kingdom of Jordan.
The Political Background
The Jordan River has always served as a meeting point for nations and people. The river delineates the border between Israel and Jordan. During the years of relative calm along the border, wide expanses of land were converted into agricultural lands on both banks of the river.
Yet, as a result of the formal state of war between the countries and the regional political tensions, the area remained a highly sensitive security zone, off limits to the local populations \as well as to international visitors/ Practically speaking, the river’s inaccessibility to the public had a favorable impact on the river banks, leaving them virtually untouched by the vigorous industrial development projects in Israel and Jordan.
Still, the vast majority of the agricultural development in the region has been low-pressure or secondary development, thus allowing for a future predestination of the land.
The aforementioned section of the Jordan River is about thirty kilometers long. The Jordan valley is divided into two longitudinal landscape units: an upper level – called “Kikar Ha-Yarden”, or “Ghur”, and a lower level, the “Gaon Ha Yarden”’ or “Zore”.
The two levels are separated by a range of marl slopes (ElKatara) of about 60 meters in height. The lower level of the valley consists of cultivated land as well as unfettered indigenous flora, which, together with an abundance of water, humidity and heat, form a unique habitat. The lower level spans approximately 1000 meters, but the river meanders along its enclosing banks, lapping at the hill cliffs and creating upright walls at increasing distances from the water-line.
The marl hills do not support any growth, and thus forma a stark contrast to the abundant growth in other parts of the Jordan valley. This unique landscape – the meandering currents, the rich soil and surrounding marl hills – is the home of the project under discussion.
The geomorphic uniqueness of the Jordan River – from its inception in the Syrian – African Rift to its outlet in the Dead Sea – is epitomized by its status as the lowest river in the world.
The area’s charm and mystique have attracted numerous pilgrims seeking a life of solitude and asceticism in the monasteries and caches alongside the riverbanks and the surrounding land. This allure still thrives today, contributing to the potential for regional tourism. The natural and untamed characteristics of the area are powerful attractive forces.
This fact take son added importance in light of the increasing industrialization of the Middle East, and the world in general. The combination of a cordial peace between Israel and Jordan, and a shared natural treasure containing scared historical and religious sites, is a cornerstone of great environmental, political and tourist potential.
The Principles of the Project
The purpose of the proposed plan is to expedite a prudent and sustainable development of the Jordan River and the Jordan Valley. The planning and development will be carried out in such a manner that the values of nature and culture will not be sacrificed, in the realization of the potential hidden in the river and its surroundings. The entire project shall proceed with the cooperation of Israel, Jordan and the communities and inhabitants in the vicinity of the river, as well as other interested parties, such as Jewish, Christian and Muslim elements who wish to change the Jordan River from a dividing border to a symbol of reconciliation and cohesion.
The proposal, in brief: The Jordan river will be designated as a Special Multi – Purpose Planning Zone (SMPZ), integrating nature, landscape, culture and history, as well as the demands of contemporary society. The unique landscape characterizing the Jordan River, the flora and fauna of the lower river valley and the riverbanks and marl slopes, will be preserved and restored. Wild animals residing in the indigenous undergrowth will be protected.
The quality of the water will be improved. Treated or fresh waters will be returned to the river so as to ensure a steady and sanitary flow. Cultivation will continue undisturbed in agricultural areas in the upper river valley and in monitored sections in the lower level, taking into account and respecting the features of the natural scenery. The water flow of the river can be utilized for farming or other uses, before reaching the Dead Sea.
Convenient access to the river and recreational activities will be assured/ Plans will be considered to allow row – boats and small steam – powered crafts on part of the river for possible reenactments of historic voyages along the river (such as the Lynch and Costigen voyages). Sacred sites serving as baptismal points along the river will be restored in order to allow the ancient pilgrimages to resume.
As part of a comprehensive plan for tourism in the area, networks of hiking – paths providing access to the waterways and viewpoints of the area’s flora and fauna – will be constructed, as well as archaeological sites and other attractive sites in Beit Shean, the Gilboa Mountains and the Gilead. Infrastructures for accommodating the demands of tourism will be established, in accordance with the principles of eco –tourism and the preservation of natural characteristics of the area. The existing economic framework, where the economy of the eastern and western settlements of the valley is based mainly on agriculture, will be remodeled, so as to include regional tourism as well.
The Planning principles
Definition of the Area
The section of the river outlined in this proposal is the area which extends from Naharaim to the Beit Shean Valley. The designated area contains the entire lower river valley, including agricultural lands, areas of undergrowth, and natural forest, as well as the marl hills, and the slopes descending from the upper sections of the river.
These confines delineate the heart of the proposed special planning zone. The related areas and sites of interest along the Jordan valley that are beyond these confines – the Beit Shean Valley, the Gilboa and the Gilead – may also be included in the plan in order to ensure its coherence.
The Jordan River Special Planning Zone will retain and preserve environmental values and cultural traditions together with the existing settlement patterns, particularly resident agriculture. The settlements on both bans of the river will both support, and be supported by the designated Special Jordan River Planning Zone, as economic, agricultural and tourist resources, by way of a harmonious balance of interests between the natural and human environments.
Tourist access to the river and its sites will also be negotiated along these lines, exposing the treasures of its landscape while preventing any damage to them.
The essence of the river is the flow of water through its beds. At present, the river is composed of flood waters and saline drainage effluents, the latter rendering the water quality in most sections very poor, even to the extent of inhibiting agriculture.
The rehabilitation of the Jordan River will entail the supply and allocation of water for a variety of uses: agriculture, natural growth and tourism, and will ensure a steady flow of water through its beds.
Pilgrims and tourism
The baptism of Jesus in the waters of the Jordan River is considered the major event in his life and the foundation for the baptismal rite in Christianity. The Jordan River has profound religious significance as a symbol of purification and solitude, and it has always drawn pilgrims from the Byzantine period to the present. The section of the river under discussion can be developed to serve the needs of the pilgrims. Under joint Israeli-Jordanian management, this international baptismal celebration can serve as another example of the transition of the Jordan River from a hostile border separating two enemy nations to a serene center of renewal and peace.
Tourism, Nature and the Environment
The rivers unique geomorphic, botanical and topographical characteristics combine to attract both resident and foreign tourists. The development of the area’s tourism potential, facilitated by the erection of access –paths, parking lots and appropriate road signs, must proceed with the utmost consideration for the requirements of the environment.
As the river serves also as an axis for the migration of birds, several bird watching sites will be constructed to enhance its attractiveness. Another potential inherent in the river involves possible crossing points; this would either entail renovating existing bridges, in harmony with the style and nature of the area, or the construction of new bridges at convenient low points of the river.
The bridges would undoubtedly emphasize and consolidate the renewed connection and cooperation between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Jordan.
The Jordan River will be a peaceful border and a focus of international cooperation – primarily between Israel and Jordan, but also with other interested parties. The entire project, embracing tourist, cultural, historical and environmental interests, will be financially beneficial, thus inducing the two principal parties to cooperate in order to protect these common interests.
The project will bring added stability to the region, and thus be an important building block in the construction of peace between Israel and Jordan, as well as a contribution to atmosphere of peace throughout the entire Middle East.
This proposal for a common Israeli-Jordanian project is presented in accordance with the environmental agreement signed by the two countries on July 19, 1994.
In order to further advancement of the project, the following steps are suggested:
Approval of the project by Jordan, Israel and the United States, to be included in their trilateral track.
Establishment of a joint working group to promote the project and take the necessary steps for implementing the project.
Elaboration and approval of a conceptual plan of the project;
Preparation of Terms of Reference (TOR) for: planning, financing and data gathering on the quantity, status and potential of the region’s resources and;
Selection of a planning team and steering committee.