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After 50 years, Israel opens up 'Land of the Monasteries’

Israel was late in recognizing the potential of the Qasr al-Yahud site, but it hopes to do better now that the region is cleared of landmines and will open to the public.
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Hundreds of thousands of Christian pilgrims visit the Holy Land every year and make the journey to the Qasr al-Yahud baptism site on the Jordan River. They will soon have a fascinating new religious attraction to add to their itineraries. The seven nearby monasteries, which were shut down and abandoned for five decades, will be opening their doors to the general public and become lively visitor centers. Over the past two years, Israel's Ministry of Defense worked together with civilian companies to clear thousands of landmines from a 1,000-dunam (approximately 250-acre) expanse, commonly known as “the Land of the Monasteries.”

Up until the 1967 Six-Day War, this stretch of land was under Jordanian control. At the time, it was home to seven very active and lively monasteries, including the Monastery of John the Baptist, which dates back to the end of the fifth century. In the 1967 Six Day War, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) occupied this area. Since then, the place has been controlled by Israeli authorities and managed specifically by the Israeli Civil Administration. A short while after the war, in 1968, the compound was closed and access was denied due to security considerations and the concern that terrorists might infiltrate the area. In order to protect this new eastern frontier from an armored invasion, the IDF concealed anti-tank mines throughout the regions. The monasteries were mined as well so that terrorists would not be able to hole up in them and fire at Israel.

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