Newsrooms Fall for Israel Flooding Story in Biggest Media Fail This Week (So Far)

Summary ... A handful of news groups reported this week that Israeli officials had opened dams leading into the Gaza Strip, causing further destruction to a region that's already suffering from devastating rains. The problem with these reports is that ... there are no dams in southern Israel.

A handful of news groups reported this week that Israeli officials had opened dams leading into the Gaza Strip, causing further destruction to a region that's already suffering from devastating rains.

The problem with these reports is that there are no dams in southern Israel.

Rather, heavy rain, a lack of proper drainage, scarcity of fuel with which to pump flood waters and damaged infrastructure from last year's war have allowed for torrential rains to flood Gaza, forcing the region's hundreds of residents to flee the high waters. [Editor's note: Much of this could have been prevented had Hamas used the funds it received from other nations for improvements rather than to rearm itself and build tunnels for terrorist attacks.]

But thanks to false claims from Palestinian [sic] officials, certain news organizations, including Al Jazeera, Agence France Presse [AFP], the Daily Mail and Vice News, reported incorrectly this week that Israel officials were likely responsible for the severity of the Gaza flooding, the false claim "going viral" before eventually being corrected.

In a report titled "Israel Denies Flooding of Gaza Despite Palestinian Accusations," Vice News cited Palestinian officials who accuse Israel of wrongdoing.

The Gaza Ministry of Interior is quoted by Vice News as saying: "Opening the levees to the canal has led to the flooding of several Palestinian homes, and we had to quickly evacuate the afflicted citizens."

The article fails to note that there are no dams in southern Israel.

Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman Libby Weiss was unimpressed with the Vice article, tweeting: "I wish Vice News would at least check if dams in south Israel existed before asking us if we used it to flood [Gaza]."

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera's reporting on the issue was similar to Vice News, the Qatar-based news agency publishing a now-retracted article originally titled: "Gazans Flee Floods Caused By Israel's Dams Opening."

Like Vice News, Al Jazeera failed to note that there are no dams in southern Israel.

And there [are] more: The Al Jazeera headline, which was changed to "Israel denies causing Gaza floods by opening dams," and its subhead, "Palestinians were evacuated from their homes after Israeli authorities opened a number of dams flooding the Gaza Valley," were both amended with no note from the editors.

The following line was also removed from the now-deleted Al Jazeera article: "At least 80 Palestinian homes have been flooded after water levels in the Gaza Valley (Wadi Gaza) rose to almost three meters, forcing families to evacuate after Israeli authorities opened several dams."

Lastly, the Al Jazeera article was updated at least once to remove the following quotes from Brigadier General Said al Saudi, chief of the civil defense agency in Gaza, who reportedly said: "Israel opened water dams, without warning, last night, causing serious damage to Gazan villages near the border" and "We are appealing to human rights organizations and international rights organizations to intervene to prevent further such action."

Elsewhere, the Daily Mail published a story, originally titled "Hundreds of Palestinians left homeless after Israel opens river dam and floods houses ... hours before Jewish state's electric company cuts off power in West Bank [sic] cities," that now carries the following correction:

An earlier version of this article stated that Israel had opened river dams in the south of the country, causing flooding in the Gaza strip. In fact, there are no dams in southern Israel and the flooding was caused by rain and drainage issues. We are happy to clarify this.

The Daily Mail also reported that the areas of Nablus [i.e., Shechem] and Jenin are "two of Gaza's major West Bank cities," a claim that the Jerusalem Post rates as false. [Gaza and the "West Bank", i.e., Judea and Samaria, are two completely different locations.—ed]

Lastly, like Vice News, the Daily Mail's report associated the Gaza flooding with the decision by the Israel Electric Company to cut power to the West Bank cities of Nablus and Jenin "for 45 minutes on Monday due to a 1.9 billion shekel [$480,070,747] debt," the Jerusalem Post noted.

"As Gaza and the West Bank are unconnected, separate geographical entities, obviously: (1) power cuts in the West Bank do not effect Gaza flooding, and (2) the writer of the article tried to redraw the map of the Middle East to try to connect the baseless claim of intentional flooding in Gaza to a totally separate phenomenon happening in the West Bank," the report said.

Separately, the AFP news agency published a video this week that featured Gazans accusing Israel of opening dams for the purpose of destruction.

The AFP video, which has since been deleted, bore the caption: "Gaza village flooded as Israel opens dam gates."

"Every four years there is a war but here in Maghraqa every year there is a flood. This water comes from Israel. This is political. All Israel wants is to destroy us," AFP quoted an Al-Maghraqa saying.

The AFP has yet to issue a formal correction.

Of the aforementioned news groups that reported Israel likely contributed to Gaza's flooding, only Al Jazeera responded to the Washington Examiner's request for comment, saying in an email: "Al Jazeera thrives itself on high editorial standards, factual reporting and honest journalism. In relation to your query, we had conducted an internal investigation and re-examined our story and sources. An earlier version of this page hosted an article which stated that Israel had, without warning, opened a number of dams, which had resulted in a part of Gaza being flooded."

"This was false. There are no dams of the type which can be opened in southern Israel. We [apologize] for this error. Al Jazeera depends on objective reporting and strives to correct all errors of fact. We are committed to accountability and transparency. We encourage our audience and others to identify and report our mistakes," the statement said.

Attempts to blame Israel for flooding in Gaza are not new as this is the second time in nearly three years that this exact story has played out in the press.

In 2013, when Palestinian officials accused Israel of intentionally flooding Gaza by opening dams, select newsrooms fell for the claim and rushed to report it, only to backtrack later when the facts of the matter became clear.

"Even the weather is fair game in Hamas's war of words against Israel," the Times of Israel reported at the time.

The report added: "A fabricated claim that Israel intentionally flooded the Gaza Strip during the worst storm to hit the region in decades has made headlines in Middle Eastern and international media over the past week."

"Hamas's Disaster Response Committee chairman Yasser Shanti told journalists on Friday that Israel opened dams just east of the Gaza Strip, causing a flood in the area of Moghraqa near the town of Deir El-Balah," it added.

At the time, Israeli officials denied accusations they flooded the area, pointing instead to heavy rains that caused reservoirs across the country to overflow. Israel also participated in 2013 in efforts to aid Gazans displaced by the high waters.

[Emphasis added]

[ T. Becket Adams | Published: February 26, 2015 ]

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