Harriet Sherwood report accuses Israel of contaminating Gaza’s beaches

Harriet Sherwood’s report, Gaza’s girl surfer battles pollution and prejudice, Guardian, Aug. 29, says the following about a young Palestinian girl’s desire to surf off the Gaza coast:

Ramshackle lifeguard towers are stationed periodically along the beach, but there are no signs warning swimmers of the greatest hazard – the sewage in the water. Up to 80m litres of sewage is dumped in the sea every day, causing diarrhoea and skin complaints among those who swallow the water.

Gaza’s four sewage treatment plants cannot cope with the growing population, according to Ewash, a consortium of international and local NGOs. Israel’s continued blockade prevents materials needed for maintaining and upgrading the plants from reaching Gaza, it says.

“People should be warned about swimming in areas close to sewage outlets,” says Ghada Snunu of Ewash. “But it’s not easy to tell people to stop swimming. The beach is the only recreation for the majority of Gazans.” [emphasis mine]

Without addressing the absurd claim that the beach is the only recreation Gazans have – a fallacy which Elder of Zion frequently, and often quite comically, points out (see here, here, here and here– the charge that Israel is responsible for the Gaza beach sewage problem is spurious for several reasons.

First, note that the passage states that swimmers in Gaza are in danger from sewage dumped in the sea, but does not note who is doing the dumping. The dumping, of course, is being done by Palestinians. The water flows up the coast (from the Nile) and Palestinian sewage ends up polluting not just Palestinian beaches, but, potentially, Israeli beaches as well. (This UN report refers to the Palestinian dumping , p. 66).

Also, although Palestinians are harming Palestinians by dumping sewage in the water, the Guardian approvingly quotes Ewash placing the blame on Israel. The Guardian never asks the obvious question: even if it is impossible to maintain and upgrade sewage plants due to “Israel’s continuing blockade,” why does that excuse Palestinian dumping sewage on the beaches? Can’t the Palestinians keep untreated sewage in pools? In fact, the Palestinians have done so for many years. The UN report sited above (p. 73) suggests disposing of sewage deep offshore (i.e., not on the beaches).

Moreover, Israel blockades Gaza’s coastline but Gaza has two land borders: one with Israel and one with Egypt. Israel, of course, limits the materials that pass over its land border, though this is not a “blockade” in any conventional understanding of the term. Egypt also limits the materials that pass over its land border with Gaza. Why then is it “Israel’s continuing blockade” that is responsible for the alleged lack of materials?

And, the broader question is just how plausible is it really is that a lack of materials is responsible for poor sewage treatment? Well, the following information regarding Israel’s supply of water and sewage treatment equipment, via The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (or COGAT), is illuminating.

  • Throughout 2010, Israel maintained a supply of 5 billion liters of water to the Gaza Strip.
  • Over the course of the year, 321 truckloads of equipment for water and sewage networks were transferred to the Gaza Strip.
  • 4,136 tons of hypochlorite were transferred to Gaza for the purification of drinking water (128 truckloads).
  • Israel supported the travel of Palestinian Water Authority representatives to conferences, meetings, and tours in order to promote the improvement of the water economy in the Gaza Strip.
  • Overall,28 projects in the fields of water and sewage were approved by Israeli authorities in 2010 and early 2011.

Finally, it’s important to note earlier disputes regarding sewage plants in which Israel refused passage of steel pipes – because they are potentially diverted to military use – but approved passage of plastic pipes, which can be used for the same purposes. The Palestinians nevertheless claimed that the poor condition of the sewage system was Israeli refusal to transfer steel pipes.

And, it has also not been uncommon for Israeli supplied metal pipes to Gaza – meant for the territory’s water sewage system – to be stolen and used instead make Qassam rockets.

Indeed, back in 2007, the Jerusalem Post reported the following. Per Elder of Ziyon:

A Palestinian from the Gaza Strip, who worked as a metal merchant at the Karni Crossing, was arrested by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) earlier this month for allegedly selling pipes, which he would buy in Israel, to terror groups who used them to manufacture Kassam rockets, it was released for publication on Sunday.

On February 9, the Shin Bet arrested Amar Zak, 37, at the Erez Crossing. During his interrogation, Zak confessed to purchasing metal pipes from Israeli companies and then selling them to Hamas and other terror groups for the manufacture of Kassam rockets, fired almost daily at Israel. In 2006, 1,700 rockets were fired at Israel.

The pipes that were sold to Zak were intended for civilian use, and specifically for the construction of a sewage system in the Gaza Strip.

The Shin Bet arrested Zak after it received numerous reports in 2006 according to which hollow pipes made in Israel were being used in Gaza to manufacture Kassam rockets as well as shoulder-launched missiles.

Without question, Gaza’s sewage treatment challenges may indeed be the result of many factors, including but not limited to: the use of parts for sewage treatment materials for rockets and other deadly weaponry; the failure by authorities in Gaza to find alternative places to dispose of sewage in the event that treatment plants don’t adequately meet the demand, and general supply problems related to Gaza’s conflict with Israel.

Yet, Harriet Sherwood is clearly unburdened by  the desire to conduct any serious research on the matter and, characteristically, accepts at face value the words of one NGO which comports to her desired oppressor-oppressed paradigm.

If the competing narrative is between holding the terrorist group in Gaza responsible for their continuing failure to adequately address the basic needs of their citizens vs. a villainous Jewish state which poisons the wells, is there really any doubt that the latter will win out every time?

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