AFP publishes false information claiming that ‘Israel caused flooding in Gaza after opening dam gates’

Palestinians take a boat through flooded streets in Gaza City, December 17, 2013Palestinians take a boat through flooded streets in Gaza City, December 17, 2013

Agence France Presse (AFP), one of the biggest news agencies in the world with Reuters and Associated Press, posted a false video showing flooding in the Gaza Strip in the wake of last week’s storm, entitled “Gaza village floods after Israel opens dam gates,” while Israel has no dams in the south of the country.

The false claim went viral on news channels, blogs, and social media . AFP later withdrew the information accusing Israel.

AFP’s video included includes and accusation by Ead Zino, a resident of Al-Maghraqa in Gaza: “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.” (In fact, Ead Zino referred in Arabic to “the Jews,” but AFP translated him as referring to Israel.)

No Israeli source was brought into the report to refute the blatant lie. The original lead stated as fact: “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.”

The official Palestinian Al Wafa news service even said Israel “pumped large amounts of rainwater into the Gaza Strip, causing tens of neighboring homes to sink, according to witnesses and media sources.”

A spokesperson for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), who clarified “the claim is entirely false, and southern Israel does not have any dams. Due to the recent rain, streams were flooded throughout the region with no connection to actions taken by the State of Israel.”

The spokesperson added that before the heavy storm that struck the region last week, COGAT “allowed the transfer of four water pumps belonging to the Palestinian Water Authority from Israel into Gaza to supplement the 13 pumps already in the Gaza Strip in dealing with any potential flooding throughout the area.”

Likewise Nechemia Shahaf, head of the Drainage Authority in the Shakma-Besor Region outside Gaza in the Negev, clarified that while there is a small diverting dam in the south, it cannot be opened or closed and is the only dam of any sort in the region.

“There is a diverting dam one meter high which directs water to reservoirs. This is a low dam which cannot be opened or closed,” said Shahaf, adding that the dam is located next to Kibbutz Gvulot around 20 kilometres (over 12 miles) away from Gaza.

The Daily Mail in London, which used the AFP news, later published a correction. “An earlier version of this article state 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 that.”

CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, a US-based media-monitoring organization, pointed out that “this is far from the first time AFP has run a false story slandering Israel.”

It said: “Three years ago it refused to clarify an unsubstantiated allegation that an IDF soldier had run over a Palestinian Arab worker with a construction vehicle, notes the group, and later the same year didn’t correct the false claim that an IAF airstrike killed 11-year-old Mahmoud Sadallah even after numerous other outlets clarified that it was Hamas’s weapons that killed him.”

Two months ago AFP did not clarify an article claiming Israelis were behind a fire in a mosque in Samaria, even after investigations clarified it was an electrical fire and numerous other outlets clarified the false report.