(June 29, 2021, Jerusalem, JNS Wire) The recently-aired episode of ABC Australia’s ‘Foreign Correspondent’ program titled ‘The Sinking Sea‘ presents visually stunning images that convey a sense of loss for a major geographic feature of the Middle Eastern landscape. The video documentary by Eric Tlozek, outgoing ABC Middle East correspondent, focuses on the demise of the Dead Sea caused by the diminished supply of its tributary waters.
Mr. Tlozek’s tenure as ABC’s Middle East correspondent followed a long line of ABC journalists, including Sophie McNeill, who have faithfully pushed the ABC’s anti-Israel agenda; in fact, Ms. McNeill will be the keynote speaker at the Australian Palestinian Advocacy Network’s annual dinner this month. Apparently, Mr. Tlozek and Ms. McNeill share more than an entry on their respective CVs.
The first 13 minutes of ‘The Sinking Sea’ take us on a look at the vast, rapid changes that have been caused by the “drying up” of the Dead Sea, through the eyes of geologists who have made this issue their life’s work. The subject is weighty, and the scholarly opinions have a strong impact, lending Tlozek’s presentation a veneer of scientific objectivity. Unfortunately, it soon becomes evident that this factual introduction is nothing more than a ploy to lure unsuspecting viewers in to what comes after the 13 minute mark. Tlozek shifts the focus upstream to the Jordan Valley, where the waters that feed into the Dead Sea continue to be illegally diverted for human use. Tlozek’s entire documentary of the Dead Sea’s woes then is revealed as being nothing more than the backdrop for a web of blood libels against Israel: The next 20 minutes or so are used to imply that the Israeli “occupation” and Israeli “settlers” are to blame for water shortages and the cataclysmic shifts in the landscape around the Dead Sea, a result of the dispossession of the “indigenous” Palestinian population” – without mentioning that Jews have lived in that area for nearly 4,000 years.
Before addressing the blatant falsehoods which Tlozek includes in his “documentary” it is perhaps even more important to consider what is not included: the questions that were not answered because they were not asked.
One point that was strangely obscured, and only mentioned in the last minute of the piece, is the very first question any journalist should have asked, but this journalist didn’t, apparently because it did not suit his political agenda: What actually caused the Dead Sea’s problems? When did the downward spiral begin? Although Tlozek never comes straight out with it, by inference Israeli “settlers” in the Jordan Valley are portrayed as the cause of the death of the Dead Sea; no mention whatsoever is made of the construction of dams and the rerouting of the waters of the Jordan River in the 1950s — when Jordan still (illegally) occupied Judea and Samaria. The Degania Dam in northern Israel (which enabled the development of Israeli agriculture and provided the life source for the entire Israeli economy), coupled with the massive Jordanian abuse of both the tributary waters and the Dead Sea itself, are not given a moment’s consideration, presumably because they cannot be blamed on the “evil” post-1967 settlers. There is also no mention of the fact that in a central pillar of the Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty signed in 1994 Israel agreed to give Jordan 50,000,000 cubic metres (1.8×109 cu ft) of water each year — and for Jordan to own 75% of the water from the Yarmouk River. Since that time -– and despite Jordan’s complete inflexibility on other elements of the treaty where compromise and negotiation were written into the accords (such as extending the lease to Naharayim and Tzofar) -– Jordan has repeatedly requested and received even greater water allocations, further depleting the Dead Sea tributaries.
Tlozek also failed to mention that the when the Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee), which is full today precisely because of the Degania Dam, enjoys another season of heavy rainfall, or if the planned Israel-Jordan desalination project comes to fruition, the dam will be opened and water will once again flow to the Dead Sea, restoring (at least in part) the water and salination levels. Lastly, honest reporting of the situation would have at least mentioned that throughout history, the water and salinity of the Dead Sea have fluctuated, and the current situation may be part of a much larger ecosystem cycle. In fact, similar environmental phenomena are occurring in many other inland seas around the globe, including such as the Caspian, Urmia, and Great Salt Lake – and no Israeli settlers have been blamed … yet.
Now let’s consider what the “documentary” did, in fact, present as fact, beginning with the very damning and specific claims by and about the residents of Kardala. Let’s start at the most basic, most accessible level — where any primary school pupil would begin if they were interested in getting information: Wikipedia. The entry on Kardala, written by the Palestinian Authority in 2017, puts the population of this “village” at 200 people in 2010; to have achieved a population of over 1000 people in only a decade, as stated in the documentary, would have been nothing short of miraculous, particularly since the number of structures on the ground in the village has remained more or less constant since the Wikipedia entry was penned (some 24 structures all told — hardly capable of housing over one thousand residents). The Wikipedia entry also states: “There are no schools or health centers in the village.” I remind you that this is as of 2017. The villagers’ claim, accepted as fact by Mr. Tlozek, that the school, and the road that accesses it, are “decades old” is an outright fabrication.
These truths about Kardala — irrefutable facts — are borne out by satellite photos available to anyone interested in obtaining them, either from the Palestinian Authority’s website or from the open-source Israeli government map site (govmap.gov.il). Attached are two images downloaded from the latter: an aerial view of Kardala, marking the school and road mentioned in the documentary, in 2021 — and the exact same view in 2018, where there is no school, no road. On the same website, you can access historic maps of the area; a map created by the British Mandatory mapping division in 1935 shows “Khirbet Kardala” — the ancient ruins at Kardala — with no settlement of any kind nearby.
The land surrounding this newborn village has been developed for agricultural use at an astounding rate in recent years, and this is neither a coincidence nor the result of the ingenuity and talent of the local farmers: The Palestinian Authority long ago slated this crucial area for takeover and has poured tremendous resources into illegal activity designed to support the very same specious claims presented by Tlozek in the ABC documentary. This includes creating a system through which water is siphoned off from the Israeli national water grid and piped to the fields for irrigation — a practice so widespread that Jewish communities — where citizens pay a premium price for their water — have major problems with water pressure that actually result in their having NO water in summer months due to uncontrolled pressure drops; reflux contamination and salination caused by sub-standard piping systems used to steal water, and more. The PA uses European funding to cultivate more and bigger tracts of Israeli state land every year, a well-known exploitation of the loophole in the Ottoman Land Law (still in force in these territories) that grants rights to anyone who uses land for agricultural purposes for a period of several years, whether they own it or not.
This illuminates some of the additional questions that were not addressed by Mr. Tlosek: While the man speaking for the residents of Kardala solemnly explains that the Israelis provide only one third of the water that is actually needed to support the population and agricultural projects of the village, the question should be, how was this water allocation determined, and how are the actual water needs of this population determined? In other words, how much water does each Palestinian in this region need, and how many people are we talking about?
Ahh, therein lies the rub – or a number of rubs, one might say: The case of Kardala is illustrative of some of the most well-concealed elements of what has come to be known as the battle for Area C, the section of Judea and Samaria placed under full Israeli jurisdiction under the Oslo Accords. The Palestinian Authority invests tremendous resources in moving population into Area C – people who are actually residents of Areas A and B, the portion of Judea and Samaria placed under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction by the Oslo Accords. PA Prime Minister a-Shtayyeh announced special grants and tax incentives for any PA residents willing to relocate to Area C Jordan Valley “communities” and even greater incentives for agricultural work. The PA invests untold millions of euros of European taxpayer “humanitarian aid” to initiate massive, unsustainable agricultural projects in desert areas under Israeli jurisdiction in order to take control, physically, of ever-expanding swaths of territory. It goes to tremendous lengths to pad population “statistics” – allowing people born abroad who have never set foot in the Middle East to register as residents of Area C, failing to remove deceased residents from the rolls, and double-counting people who live in Area A or B.
Another well-documented practice is the gerrymandering of the boundary lines of existing communities in Areas A and B to connect with illegal structures it builds in Area C – and then “redefining” the entire complex as Area C, in order to churn out ever-rising population figures. This appears to be the case with the village of Kardala, located in Area C but connected to the older Area B village of Bardala. In this way, all the residents of both “villages” – actually one village under Palestinian Authority jurisdiction and an adjacent cluster of 24 structures that have sprung up on land under Israeli jurisdiction – are now counted as residents of Area C. All told, Kardala and Bardala may or may not have more than 1000 residents – but by conflating the data for the two, the PA has managed to re-brand the residents of a village fully under its own jurisdiction as part of the (fictitious) burgeoning population of Palestinians living in Area C, and turn them into the responsibility of the Israeli government. Essentially, it is a shell game played with people, the same people who one minute are under PA jurisdiction, but with a flick of the wrist, the wink of an eye, a bit of creativity and a cooperative “journalist”, suddenly become residents of a ‘historic ‘Area C village of thousands of residents who are ostensibly being killed by water deprivation at the hands of what is described as a cruel occupation regime and the rapacious settlers that do its bidding.
This is nonsense at best, mendacious falsehood bordering on blood libel at worst.
The allocation of water to Palestinian residents under Israeli jurisdiction was determined in the framework of the Oslo Accords according to population size. Simply put, there would be no water crisis if Europe and the PA would not have orchestrated a large-scale migration of people into Area C for political purposes. The utter evisceration of the Oslo Accords became official, publicly declared PA policy in 2009 (“The Fayyad Plan”), and with the help of the European Union has systematically executed this policy ever since, manipulating populations and re-drawing the map of Judea and Samaria through illegal construction and agricultural and infrastructure projects.
Another question that might have been asked by an honest journalist is, what options are there to alleviate this crisis? Israel provides the Palestinian Authority approximately 70 million cubic meters per year of water to the Palestinian Authority in Judea and Samaria (the “West Bank”) alone, not including the Gaza Strip, even though the Water Agreement signed in the Oslo framework allocates a much smaller quantity of only 23.6 MCM/year (for the ‘West Bank’ alone). If the PA so desired, the residents of the “village” of Kardala could easily be living in Bardala and enjoying sufficient water supplies. Similarly, the housing needs of all Palestinians currently living in illegal structures on Israeli state land throughout Area C could easily be met if the PA invested its resources in development and construction in the areas under its jurisdiction, Areas A and B, where there is no threat of demolition, confiscation of equipment or materials, and no need for Israeli permits. Regavim’s recent study of the availability and utilization of land resources in Judea and Samaria found that over 60% of land resources under PA jurisdiction remain available. Rather than using its resources to improve the lives of its people, the PA instead chooses to divert all its resources into illegal, politically motivated projects that are designed to wrest control of as much land as possible away from Israeli jurisdiction.
Agenda-driven journalism is not journalism. It is propaganda, and cannot stand up to the daylight of facts. Let the consumer of propaganda – and its victims – beware.
To learn more about these issues, see Regavim’s “Roots of Evil” report and the comprehensive report on the progress of the Fayyad Plan to establish a de facto Palestinian state in Area C, “The War of Attrition.” Both reports, and additional materials, can be accessed here: https://www.regavim.org/publications/position-papers/
This article appeared in Gatestone Institute.
Naomi Linder Kahn is Director of the International Division of Regavim, a public Israeli movement dedicated to the protection and preservation of Israel’s resources and sovereignty.