Demining the baptism place of Jesus

Pilgrims and tourists can visit once again and this area can heal from the scars of battle

(CNN) – Parts of one of the holiest Christian sites in the world have been blocked to visitors because of land-mines.

A narrow path leads to the site where Christians believe Jesus was baptized, but churches at the site on the Jordan River have sat empty for 50 years.

That could soon change, thanks to help from one organization. The signs around us warn of danger in three languages.

Here, only the road is safe. Beyond the barbed wire, nearly 5,000 explosive mines covering one square kilometer.

Michael Heiman, Israeli National Mine Action Authority said, “In this particular area we are not looking to find anti-personnel mines.”

Oren Liebermann: “And you can see an anti-tank mine right now?”

Michael Heiman: “Yes sure, there is the first line is right here like 30 meters from the place where we’re standing.”

This minefield in the west bank restricts access to one of Christianity’s holiest sites. Recognized as the biblical site of the baptism of Jesus.

Pilgrims from all over the world bathe in the waters of this holy site on the Jordan River. At a modern tourist center opened in 2011.

But seven Christian churches at the site. All different denominations… Have been closed for half a century.

Want an idea of how many landmines there are in certain spots here – see that dark ball right there – that’s an anti-personnel mine and this entire field is full of them.

During the six-day war in 1967. Israeli and Jordanian armies laid mines here. Churches were booby trapped. And unexploded ordinance could still be anywhere. Churches have been off limits ever since.

Maj. Gen. James Cowan, HALO CEO said, “If we didn’t do it, these mines would be here forever.”

I speak with James Cowan outside the Romanian Orthodox Church. He is the CEO of halo, the world’s largest humanitarian mine clearing organization.

Halo has just gotten permission to clear the minefield with the approval of both the Israelis and Palestinians.

Oren Liebermann: “Forty, 50 years later these mines are still dangerous?”

Maj. Gen. James Cowan: “Absolutely, they’d still be dangerous 100 years from now if we didn’t clear them”

In Syria and Iraq. Isis has leveled ancient holy sites, bulldozing history and destroying precious artifacts.

Here, the goal is to do the reverse. Clearing the minefield will preserve these holy sites.

Pilgrims and tourists can visit once again. This area can heal from the scars of battle.

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