Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Dam lies

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Gaza's Hamas government makes wild accusations against Israel all the time, but not all are as easily disproven as the latest one - their claim that Israel had "opened dams" along Gaza's border during the recent winter storm, flooding neighbourhoods and causing thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes.

As Ma'an reported on December 13:

The Gaza government's Disaster Response Committee announced late Friday that Israeli authorities had opened up dams just east of the Gaza Strip, flooding numerous residential areas in nearby villages within the coastal territory.
Committee chairman Yasser Shanti said in a press conference that Israeli authorities had opened up dams just to the east of the border with the Gaza Strip earlier in the day.

Except there are no rivers, no "reservoirs" per se, and no dams on the Israel side of the border. Anyone could see this for themselves by simply looking at the satellite image of the area on Google Maps.

There are no dams, but there was a tremendous quantity of rain falling in the cachement of the wadis (seasonal rain runoff ravines) at the time the flooding occurred. As the Times of Israel reported:

Rainfall of 260 millimeters (10.23 inches) was documented in the Gaza area between December 11 and 13, comprising a staggering 60 percent of the annual average for the region. According to Israel's Water Authority, the flow in Shikma River - emanating in the Hebron hills and pouring into the Mediterranean Sea north of the Gaza Strip - broke a 50-year record.

The torrential rain was also recognised as the source of the flooding by international media outlets, like Reuters.

Ma'an was quickly challenged for publishing the allegation without evaluating the authenticity of the claim.

As one responder, Michael Greenwald of Thailand, put it:

Dear Editor,
There are no rivers in Israel immediately east of Gaza. So, there are no dams. Perhaps you are referring to one or several of the wadis. These run during heavy rains as is happening now all over the Med[iterranean] and Middle East. The area getting flooded is called a "flood plain," implying "do not build there." But every once in a while there is a flash flood and when that happens the Gazans blame it on Israel.

Exactly right. There is nothing unique about the flooding that occurred along the wadis in Gaza that doesn't occur everywhere in the arid Middle East when flash flooding occurs.

Even Ha'aretz's Amira Hass - a notorious and extreme critic of Israel's policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, dismissed Hamas' accusation, albeit diplomatically (subscription required).

Gaza officials blamed Israel for the flooding, saying it caused Wadi Gaza to overflow and flood residential neighborhoods by opening dams outside the Strip. Palestinian sources said these dams normally keep the water level in Gaza low.
Nehemia Shahaf, the Israeli municipal official responsible for the drainage system in part of the northern Negev, said there was one dam in the area, a one-meter cement structure in the Tze'elim area that directs water to a reservoir in Israeli territory, but that it could not be opened or closed. Shahaf said the water level was so high that the dam couldn't stop it from reaching Gaza.

What Shahaf described isn't really a dynamic dam in the sense that it has no adjustable spillgate. The "system" is merely a concrete berm across the wadi which diverts some of the water that comes down the wadi in the winter (as it's completely dry in the summer) into a holding reservoir, presumably for local irrigation purposes. Once the water flow overtops the diversion wall or the reservoir is full, the rainwater simply resumes its natural flow down the wadi.

Such a setup is not intended to serve any role for flood protection, merely to harvest some of the floodwaters out of the wadi.

In any case, Haas also reported that "Israel's Mekorot water utility said it acceded to a request by the Palestinian Authority, via the United Nations, to send four water pumps to Gaza to help control the flooding."

So, not only was Israel not responsible for causing the flooding in Gaza, it tried to help ease it. Yet instead of giving Israel credit for helping pump out the floodwater, Hamas took the opportunity to blame Israel for the overall situation.

(Hamas, of course, is not powerless to prevent future floods in the territory under its control. For example, it could have used the 500 tons of cement it used earlier this year to build a terror tunnel to Israel as material to build its own flood control dam instead.)

The latest lie by Hamas is simply part of their overall strategy to blame Israel for every single problem Palestinians have. They continue to claim Israel is enforcing a draconian blockade that prevents them from providing essential services.

There is no truth to this. Gaza can import any goods that it desires through Israel's Kerem Shalom crossing, with the exception of some dual-use goods which could be used for military purposes, and even most of those can be imported on a case-by-case basis. It can export abroad freely the same way. There is nothing stopping Hamas from importing as many water pumps as they wish.

Following the flood, Israel expedited the transfer of Qatar-funded fuel from the PA into Gaza. News reports inaccurately described the transfer in terms of Israel "allowing" the fuel shipment into Gaza. This terminology is misleading and inaccurate. Israel's blockade does not impede Gaza from receiving fuel. Now that Egypt has cut off the smuggling of its subsidised fuel into Gaza, Israel is the only conduit for fuel transfers to Gaza, and Israel has been expanding their pipelines to accommodate this - however, the actual fuel transaction is a matter between the PA and Hamas alone. In this instance, once Hamas had settled payment with the PA, the fuel was transferred to Israel and Israel transferred it to Gaza without delay.

But why let facts get in the way when blaming Israel for anything bad that happens to Palestinians - even natural disasters - serves Hamas' political agenda so well?

This is not the first time the dam libel has been trotted out against Israel - the last time was during a winter storm in 2010.

Iran's PressTV has been one of the biggest promoters of this fabrication. In 2010, Antony Loewenstein shamelessly linked to their story on his blog.

Meanwhile, on Commentary Magazine's website, Jonathan Tobin blogged that the world needs to understand that Palestinian propaganda of this sort is not harmless - it says something about Palestinian intentions and shows a substantial portion of the Palestinian public is not ready for peace.

This is more than just rumor mongering. Hamas blames Israel for suffering in Gaza because that is the only way it can deflect responsibility from itself for the incompetent manner with which it rules the strip. More to the point, these recycled Iranian lies feed into the prejudices of Palestinian political culture that not only rejects Israel but views the Jews as the font of all evil and the source of all Palestinian suffering. Iran's propaganda machines like its Press TV feed this paranoia in order to fuel hatred of Israel. Palestinians buy it because it allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their own fate and for making peace.
Thus, rather than dismiss this story or laugh it off, serious observers of the Middle East ought to be paying more attention to it. Until Palestinian factions stop blaming Israel for the weather, purveyors of Jew hatred will continue to dominate their politics and keep alive false hope about Israel's eventual destruction.

On a related point, while it's true that no mainstream international media organisations has given any legitimacy to the dam libel by including it in any of their stories about the flooding, by turning a blind eye to the lie, they let Palestinian government spokespeople and biased Palestinian "news organisations" like Ma'an off the hook for propagating it.

This only gives these parties the opportunity to try their luck again later on with a more believable lie or gross exaggeration.

Unfortunately, we have seen this happened last month when the Australian's Middle East Correspondent John Lyons used a factually erroneous and biased story by Ma'an on house demolitions in Jerusalem as the primary basis for an article.

As I blogged at the time, the Australian's editors should have been aware of Ma'an's history of uncritically parroting baseless anti-Israel allegations and insisted Lyons further investigate the story before publishing it.

By ignoring rather than exposing and debunking Palestinian media bias when it happens, the global media boosts the organisation's credibility artificially. The end result is a dilution of facts with anti-Israel fantasy when it comes to the world's perception of Israel, and truth becomes the victim.

Ahron Shapiro

 

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