Here’s the headline accompanying a Feb. 23 Guardian article, by their Jerusalem correspondent Oliver Holmes, about problems facing the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret).

Here’s the opening:

If Jesus were alive today, he might reconsider a baptism in the river Jordan; there’s a good chance he’d pick up an eye infection. Faecal bacteria in the pungent, murky waters have risen in recent years to up to six times the recommended levels.

Once a raging torrent, the lower Jordan has been starved of water to become a stagnant stream, filled with sewage and dirty run-off from farms. Around 95% of its historical flow has been diverted by agriculture during the past half-century. And the river’s primary source, the Sea of Galilee – where Christians believe the son of God walked on water – has for years been dammed to prevent its demise.

Biblical bodies of water in the Holy Land, eternalised in Christian, Jewish and Muslim ancient texts as godly, are now facing very human threats: climate change, mismanagement and conflict.

The ‘What would Jesus think’ way of introducing an article is not at all new for the Guardian (or, for the the British media more broadly), which often employs such tropes in December to create evocative story-lines promoting the charge that Israel is ruining Christmas, or other seasonal variations of the ‘Israelis oppressing Palestinians’ narrative.

Here’s a good example in a Guardian article from December 2011.

Guardian, Dec. 22, 2011

Though some such articles include the explicit (false) claim that Jews oppressing Christians in the Holy Land, most – such as this latest Guardian piece – are at least laced with the implicit suggestion that Israel is corrupting the birthplace of Jesus and defiling sites of religious significance.

However, if the Guardian reporter wanted to really meditate upon what Jesus would think of the modern Jewish state, he could explore the country’s record in safeguarding the rights of its Christian community, and their holy places, and how this contrasts with the persecution of Christians in the rest of the Mid-East. Or, more relevant to the topic at hand, he could report on the state’s internationally recognised advances in desalinisation and other water technologies.  Israel may not be able to boast of changing water into wine, but an Israeli company (Watergen) has managed to create a device that miraculously creates drinking water literally out of thin air.

Israeli technology uses a series of filters to purify the air, take out the humidity and transform it into clean drinking water.

Moreover, Holmes’ lengthy Guardian article doesn’t touch upon any genuine religious issues at stake in ongoing problems affecting the Kinneret and Jordan River, suggesting the Jesus references merely serve as an evocative hook to draw anti-Israel readers in to an otherwise dry and detail rich environmental themed piece – a journalistic device to sell a desired narrative that’s as predictable as it is cynical. 

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