AFP Promotes Propaganda on Gaza Water Issues

“Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing,” advises the Code of Ethics for the Society of Professional Journalists, an organization dedicated to “improving and protecting journalism.”

An Agence France Press article by Safaa Kanj last Friday, Sept. 23 failed to do just that, and as a result the article about water shortages and contamination in Gaza suffered from one-sidedness, distortions and factual inaccuracies (“Crisis looms for water-starved Gaza Strip: experts”).

Unanswered Allegations

Unfortunately, the experts consulted for this story were only on the Palestinian side, and they (aided by Kanj’s own additions) wrongly blame Israel for water shortages, sub-standard contamination facilities, and an almost dry water table. Israeli experts were not permitted the opportunity to respond. For instance, Kanj interviews Shdaddad al-Atili, water and ecological affairs advisor to the Palestinian Authority, who alleges: “Israel has not authorized us to import water from regions outside Gaza.”

Shlomo Dror, spokesman for the Coordination of Activities in the Territories, who serves on a joint committee of Israeli and Palestinian officials to deal with Gaza water issues, told CAMERA that Palestinians can bring just about anything they want through Gaza now that Israel has withdrawn from the territory, including from the Philadelphi border with Egypt. “If they want to bring water from Egypt, probably they will do it. They can buy anything they want from around the world,” he points out, adding that the Egypt-Gaza border has become an entry point for all varieties of arms.

It should be noted that Egypt has so far refused to supply water to the Palestinians, despite the fact that Egypt has a plentiful supply from the Nile  (Egypt’s per-capita water consumption is the second highest in the region, just behind Syria’s).

Kanj also asserted that: “Israel has offered to sell [the Palestinians] desalinated water for one dollar per cubic meter, which the Palestinians find too costly.” Contrary to Kanj’s implication, Dror stated that the Palestinians have in fact agreed to purchase water from Israel’s Ashkelon desalination plant mostly using money contributed by the United States, at the same price for which the water is sold to Israelis (despite the fact that Palestinians don’t pay taxes which end up in the coffers of Mekorot, Israel’s national water company, while Israelis do).

Kanj also wrote: “The team [of UN environmental experts] is also to investigate the possible presence of industrial pollutants in the water table and the burying of solid waste at Israeli settlements that were evacuated in August.” Had Israelis been consulted, they would have responded, as Dror did, that the Israeli agreement drawn up with U.S. Special Envoy James Wolfensohn stipulates that all dangerous materials had to be evacuated as part of the withdrawal. “Maybe we missed some spot here or there,” speculated Dror, but if that is the case then those oversights will be noted in an upcoming report by the Americans, and the waste will be removed into Israel.

In another Palestinian allegation against Israel which receives no Israeli response, Kanj reports:

Palestinian water expert Said Abu Jalala said another area of focus [in a United Nations investigation] will be the impact of sand mining by Israeli companies.

“Tens of thousands of tons of high-quality sand have been taken about of Gaza by the Israelis for their industrial glass and building needs, thereby depriving the water table of its natural filter,” Jalala says.

Dror confirmed that while some sand was removed with proper licenses, Israeli criminals have stolen large amounts of sand both from Gaza and within Israel. Nevertheless, had Kanj been writing an objective report on Gaza’s water problems he would have notified readers that Palestinian criminals and vandals are just as problematic as their Israeli counterparts. For instance, a June 18, 2004 report in the Jerusalem Times, an independent Palestinian weekly, reports:

The Municipality of Gaza recently warned local, international and environmental media from the expected collapse [sic] and destruction of one of the strategic serviceable establishments in Gaza. The collapsing of the sewage treatment water tank will convert Gaza province into a catastrophic area that will affect the Palestinians’ health and environment.

The municipality’s representatives said that some vandals were able to remove (steal) the sand surrounding these huge establishments for commercial use . . . .

[Palestinian general manager in Gaza municipality Mohammed Akram] Halas said that this huge sewage waste water tank is considered as a national priority and called on the local Palestinians to stop from removing and transferring the sand surrounding the tanks, in which these sand retaining walls were erected to protect the reservoirs from possible collapsing of the tanks to reduce possible risks on the Palestinians . . . .

The Palestinian general manger of the water and sewage waste water department in the Gaza municipality, Engineer Hazem Tarazi, mentioned that the tank is considered a vital part for using the waste water and treating it. . . . (“Vandals Undermine Sewage Operation”)

Other Omitted Information (All of It Damaging to Palestinians)

Ignoring Palestinian sand thieves wasn’t Kanj’s only serious omission which slanted the story against Israel. While the article put the onus entirely on Israel (mostly incorrectly) for water scarcity, the reporter ignored any information which implicated the Palestinians or which portrayed Israel in a positive light.

Thus, the AFP writer ignores the fact that when Israel turned over control of most of Gaza to the Palestinians in 1993 under the Oslo Accords, the Israelis left behind a water treatment plant. The Palestinians, however, opted to stop operating the site. Likewise, when Israel pulled out the settlements last summer, they left behind the wells and facilities to clean water which accompanied each settlement. (As has been widely reported, 20 percent of the greenhouses that Israel left behind were destroyed by Palestinian hooligans, so it remains to be seen whether the water facilities will share this fate.) In addition, around 5 million-cubic-meters of water per year for Palestian use is pumped from Israel into Gaza via the Kissufim pipeline.

While Israel had full control over Gaza before 1993, it enforced laws against illegally digging wells. The Palestinian officials, however, did not crack down on illegal well digging, leading to the phenomenon whic h Kanj described (but without assigning blame on the lax Palestinian authorities):

Some 4,300 wells are allowed by law, but another 2,400 have been dug without permission, illegally draining 70 million cubic meters (2.4 billion cubic feet) from the already law water table, Atili said.

The extra drainage has the effect of making the drinking water saltier.

Moreover, Palestinians waste their own water, and are therefore responsible for their own shortages, because they use potable (drinking) water for agricultural purposes. In contrast, Israel conserves by using treated waste water for a substantial part of its agriculture, and also extensively uses drip agriculture (which it pioneered) to get water directly to the root-zone. This minimizes waste due to watering too wide an area, and also minimizes evaporation.

Finally, Kanj ignored entirely another serious looming environmental problem caused by Palestinian dumping of treated waste water, as opposed to recycling for agriculture. In a petition to the Israeli High Court of Justice, Prof. Steve Brenner, the head of the Department of Geography and Environment at Bar Ilan University, warned:

The current situation in Gaza City, with more than one million residents, is to discharge the domestic sewage into a holding pool north of the city where the wastewater slowly percolates into the ground. As the population of the Gaza Strip grows, it is clear that an alternative disposal system will have to be established and it is more likely that the choice will be discharge into the sea. Until the present, this has not occurred due to the environmental controls and restrictions enforced by the State of Israel.

Upon the Israeli withdrawal from this region, nothing will prevent the Palestinians from switching to the very simple and attractive option of ocean disposal. If this is not properly planned, assessed and monitored, the dire consequences for Israel will be the equivalent of an ecological time bomb. . . .

There is little doubt that any effluents discharged into the sea off the coast of Gaza will spread northward into the territorial waters and the coastal zone of Israel.

Will Kanj or AFP be issuing a report based solely on the research of Brenner and other Israeli experts about the ecological time bomb that Israel faces thanks to the Palestinians’ reckless water practices?

See also CAMERA’s backgrounder, “Does Israel Use Palestinian Water?”

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