Lessons from the Gaza Sewage Tsunami: A Teaching Moment

The case of the Gaza sewage flood is, by now, fairly well known. I comment on a fairly good article by AP reporter Ibrahim Barzak on the affair in order to emphasize some of the lessons it can teach us about the nature of Palestinian suffering.

One of the fundamental question of our coming decade is: Who is responsible for Palestinian suffering. When Hamas fires katyushas into Israel and provokes responses, the MSM has no problem reporting the “fear and loathing” the Israelis inspire in a “victim” people. But whom should Palestinians fear and loath for causing their unbearably humiliating condition?

sewage weapons
From Cox and Forkum, Hat tip: LGF

Sewage Flood in Northern Gaza Kills 5

Tuesday March 27, 2007 10:01 PM


Associated Press Writer

UMM NASER, Gaza Strip (AP) – A huge sewage reservoir in the northern Gaza Strip collapsed Tuesday, killing five people in a frothing cascade of waste and mud that swamped a village and highlighted the desperate need to upgrade Gaza’s overburdened infrastructure.

Rescue crews and Hamas gunmen rushed to the area to search for people feared buried under the sewage and mud. Dressed in wetsuits, they paddled boats through the layer of foam floating on the green and brown rivers of waste. Others waded up to their hips into the sewage.

The noxious smell of waste and dead animals hung in the air.

Angry residents drove reporters away and mobbed government officials. When Interior Minister Hani Kawasmeh arrived to survey the damage, his bodyguards fired in the air to disperse the crowd.

Were these reporters Palestinian or foreign. Why were they driven away? If such a disaster happened in a civil society, locals would rush to the press to complain about their leaders. Did they drive away foreign reporters because they were ashamed? Is that why we have no photos?

It would have been nice to get a report of what the people from the town were saying. What kinds of “hidden transcripts” did such a callous act of incompetence on the part of the government bring to the surface?

In one house, everything from the television to the sink was covered in muck. “We lost everything. Everything was covered by the flood. It’s a disaster,” said Amina Afif, 65, whose shack was destroyed.

Aid officials said plans to build a larger waste treatment facility had been held up for years by perpetual fighting in the area between Israel and Palestinians and donor concerns about political instability. However, construction did not appear to have been affected by international sanctions imposed on the Palestinians after the militant Hamas group’s election victory last year.

This is less than enlightening. Later the journalist will explain why it’s not the fault of the sanctions.

The existing treatment plant in northern Gaza – located just a few hundred yards from the border with Israel – stores waste in seven holding basins. With the burgeoning population producing nearly four times as much waste as the plant could treat, officials have put overflow sewage in the nearby dunes, creating a lake covering nearly 110 acres, the U.N. said.

On Tuesday morning, an earth embankment around one of the seven basins collapsed, sending a wall of sewage crashing into the neighboring village of Umm Naser.

The wave killed two women in their 70s, two toddlers and a teenage girl and injured 35 other people, hospital officials said. More than 200 homes were destroyed, health officials said.

Now where are the pictures of these poor victims? Where are the lengthy interviews with their families? Where is the footage of mothers and daughters wild with grief over their slain family members?

The Gaza City mayor blamed the collapse on local people digging dirt from the structure and selling it to building contractors.

Don’t anyone say the Palestinians are not an industrious people. It is nothing short of heartbreaking that people are so desperate to make some money that they would undermine these foundations. The anti-economic activities of Palestinian political culture not only impoverish people, but divert entrepreneurial drives in such tragic directions.

“This is a human tragedy,” said Public Works Minister Sameeh al-Abed.

Aid officials and the Palestinian government sent bulldozers to build makeshift walls to push back the sewage. Officials will also try to divert the waste into the other holding basins, putting those in danger of overflowing. Another collapse could send sewage flooding into Beit Lahiya, a far larger town, officials said.

“We are doing all we can to prevent any disaster, but the solution is temporary,” said government engineer Nidal Musalameh.

So, will any of these brave journalists keep their eye on the ball and follow this story? Or do we need dead babies and old ladies to catch their ADD eye?

Many of the evacuated residents were staying in tents and other shelters nearby, rescue officials said. But officials feared a public health disaster.

“It is an extremely serious situation,” said Stuart Shepard, a U.N. official based in Gaza.

Oh. That’s important. What does he say about the responsibility here? How more readily would Palestinians vote for serious leaders, if the UN didn’t cover for the thugs, as they do with Pallywood, where UN Ambulances regularly evacuate the fakes.

Fadel Kawash, head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said the sewage level had risen in the reservoir in recent days. Shepard said the earthen embankments also had been weakened by rain.

But Gaza City Mayor Majid Abu Ramadan, who leads a council of Gaza municipalities, blamed the collapse on lawlessness in the Gaza Strip, accusing residents of stealing the dirt and selling it to building companies for $70 a truckload.

For those who don’t understand, remember that the Gaza is, even under conditions of war during the early 21st century, so vastly superior to the Egyptian Sinai (and other Arab countries), that when the border opened briefly, brides rushed over to complete strangers for the sake of living in Gaza.

A 2004 U.N. report warned that the sewage facility, built for a population of 50,000, was handling waste from 190,000 people, and flooding was inevitable. It warned that the lake fcreated by the overflow from the seven basins posed a serious health hazard, providing a breeding ground for mosquitoes and waterborne diseases.

Shepard said that since the report was published, international funding for a new plant had been secured but construction could not proceed because of security risks in the area.

Umm Naser is about 300 yards from the border with Israel, in an area where Palestinians have frequently launched rockets into Israel and Israeli artillery and aircraft have fired back. The situation worsened after Hamas-linked militants captured an Israeli soldier last June in a cross-border raid, and Israel responded by invading northern Gaza.

Umm Naser is also a place where kids are proud of their “shrapnel collections.”

At least the author gets the sequence of actions right. The Israelis left Gaza in 2005 believing (deluded in my opinion) that it would lead to less violence. (Which is what they want.) The Palestinians still have an insane war to conduct, so they continue to do what little damage they can, while in an Israeli headlock. But rather than say uncle and get on with their (potentially, powerful lives as the cutting edge of an Arab/Muslim entry into the world of modern produtivity), they prefer to struggle till they sprain their muscles, as in this sewage spill.

The flooding underscored the fragility of the overburdened infrastructure in the impoverished and overcrowded coastal region of 1.4 million people. The West Bank, too, is suffering from eroding sewage and water infrastructure.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed international “sanctions against Palestinians” for the sorry condition of Gaza’s infrastructure. Most foreign donors froze aid to the Palestinian government after Hamas came to power last year, but Shepard said a project to build a treatment plant in northern Gaza had not been affected by the boycott.

An internal World Bank document obtained by The Associated Press said the Palestinian Authority decided in 2003 to dump partially treated excess waste into the ocean, but Israel vetoed the idea.

I’d give the article a B-. Nothing obviously wrong or agenda driven. But most of the details and quotes are either anodine or so incomplete as to only hint at the real story. But for accuracy and relevance, far superior to the much more sophisticated work if PCP-ridden work of Steve Erlanger.

To spell out what our journalist does not quite want to make explicit:

Hamas, once in control of the Gaza Strip, immediately started shelling (or allowing their own “operational arm” to shell) the Israelis constantly, from precisely the area that they had this sewage problem. Completely willing, as the expression goes, to sh*t in their own living room as long as they could show their manhood and pursue their vendetta by inflicting even small amounts of pain on the hated Israelis, they ignored the danger to their own people. The international agencies who had already earmarked funds for this project could not carry it out because of what Barzak so delicately calls the “security risks in the area.” And the Palestinian authorities who got metal from Israel to improve the sewage system used it for weapons to attack Israel.

Nothing better illustrates how ill-suited for statehood are the Palestinian people who elected this group of maniacs of their own “free will.”

Ziad Abu Farya, head of the village council, described the scene as “our tsunami.” There are two ways to read that statement.

In the world of honor and shame, it is once more the Palestinian desire to claim the highest victim status. They have been taught to compare their suffering with the Shoah – indeed to claim their suffering is still greater.

israeli soldier cartoon
Al-Ahali, March 29, 2007 (Egypt)
The headline: “Israel killed the Egyptian prisoners on 1967 war.” The soldiers are saying to each other: “We are not killers. We are Nazis.” Hat tip: ADL

So why not now claim that this sewage flood that killed two old ladies, two infants, and a teenager is the same as the tsunami that killed over 250,000 people, and stole, however briefly, the suffering spotlight from the Palestinians in December of 2004?

N.B. This is, by the way, the self same “victim narrative” which resonates so well with Western intellectuals. These honor-shame Palestinians will gravitate to Hamas’ blaming Israeli shelling and the (Jewish-manipulated) international community’s refusal to give them money as the cause of the disaster. Scapegoating and the welfare nation. Like the Bourbons, they will forget nothing and learn nothing.

But in the world of integrity and guilt, this tsunami is the wave of humiliation at the nauseating leadership that the Palestinians have had imposed upon them, and supported, and even now, have chosen. It is the wave of consciousness, however painful its origin, that offers the possibility of a way out of this pain. It is that sudden realization

  • that my own leaders — political, religious, “security” — are cruel and violent,
  • that our lives are only meaningful to them as sacrifices,
  • that our deaths and misery serve the cause,
  • that even in indifference they constantly endanger our lives, parading live ammunition that blows up in the midst of our children, letting people bathe on beaches strewn with their mines, and now, ignoring a pressing (but clearly not honorable) danger
  • that they only get indignant over our deaths when they can blame them on Israelis, but when it is their fault, they could not care less.
  • that even if Israel were destroyed tomorrow, Palestinians, like their brethren in other Arab countries, would continue to languish in the talons of so brutal and predatory an elite.

The most recent polls show that well over 80% of the population wants decent economic conditions, schools, law courts, and security systems — all things that would flourish under conditions of peace with Israel. In another poll, more than 2/3 of Palestinians feel that Hamas has failed.

But in the first poll, over 56% want to continue the armed struggle; and in the other, more than half feel that Hamas gave up a significant part of its platform by joining a national unity government.

Want to eat your cake and have it too?

When will the Palestinians grow up?

When the world stops infantilizing them?

What a teaching moment for progressives who want to move the Palestinians in the direction of a civil society, with its demands — human and civil rights for the commoners and powerless, tolerance of difference — and its benefits — prosperity, learning and peace!

Or will the “left” continue to encourage Palestinians to snap at the Israelis, the scapegoat offered them by their predatory elites… nursing the resentments and thirsting for the vengeance honor demands?


Breath of the Beast explores these themes further, with particular attention to the long history of “governmental neglect” of such unromantic issues as sewage in Arab history.

Reuven Koret at Israeli Insider compares the incident to Pharaoh’s army buried in the Red Sea — they went there to attack the Israelites and they got drowned… this time in their own excrement. (Unfortunately, it was Bedouin old women and children, not Hamas who got drowned.)

The story may not have the biblical proportions of Pharaoh and his chariots, but it would be difficult for a creative writer to construct a more fitting illustration of tragic justice.

Wretchard the Cat at Belmont Club discusses the whole sad affair in the context of “Third World” ecological disasters.

11 Responses to Lessons from the Gaza Sewage Tsunami: A Teaching Moment

  1. Robert Schwartz says:

    You have to admit that it is an almost perfect encapsulation of the whole Palestinian farce.

  2. Michael B says:

    There is such a wealth to mine here in terms of reportage and commentary – and this sewage flood represents the tip of the iceberg only, a microcosm and reflection of other phenomena – yet we are unlikely, and unlikely in the extreme, to see it. Doesn’t fit the formulaic oppressor/oppressed and other narratives the NYT and so many others have adopted, have inculcated upon their publics and consumers via repetitions, have, in point of fact, enculturated as part of the warp-and-woof of the “news speak” within their newsrooms.

  3. Nelson says:

    On the one hand the Arab media denies the Holocaust while on the other hand they call Israelis Nazis.

    If the Nazis didn’t commit genocide than why do they bother using the label Nazi as an insult? What is uniquely evil about the Nazis is the Holcoaust. Take that away and they are no worse than any Islamic dictatorship.

  4. RL says:

    to Nelson:

    you are talking about intellectual consistency, which is part of the world of integrity-guilt. they are operating not from the principles of what is true or consistent but what works in the world of public opinion (honor-shame). thus the two positions are equally emotionally attractive and gratifying — on the one hand, take away from the jews the claims that make allowing them a nation particularly compelling (as if national self-determination for a distinct people weren’t enough), and accuse them of the worst crimes in the book.

    it’s up to their audience — westerners — to call them on this inconsistency, but my sense is that from a combo of intimidation and uncs racism, we don’t say anything because we are afraid of their reaction and we don’t want to embarrass them.

    they think we behave like fools and cowards and they’re right.

  5. Cynic says:

    … by inflicting even small amounts of pain on the hated Israelis, they ignored the danger to their own people.

    The people in the area are Bedouin, not so loved by the clans making up Hamas and Fatah, making them more expendable from the collateral damage point of view.

  6. Lynne T says:


    Excellent piece by attorney and freelance writer Steven Shanok on the delusion that Israel can exchange land for peace from the March 1/07 edition of the American Thinker: http://www.americanthinker.com/2007/03/israels_groundhog_day.html

  7. RL
    This is a surpassingly clear metaphore/omen. You inspired me newest post- Take a look.

  8. Eliyahu says:

    Looking at Erlanger’s writings and most of the rest of the MSM, as well as the positions of leading politicians like jimmy carter, jim baker, etc., plus the otherwise inexplicable initiatives of Condi Rice, Hubert Vedrine ex-French foreign minister, son of a high Vichy official], etc., one might conclude that the peace in the term “peace process” really refers to peace of mind for Judeophobes. Also considering the deadly results of the “peace process” since Oslo in 1993.

  9. […] danian rule (1948-67), or their conditions in Lebanon when the PLO had power (1970-82), or Gaza after withdrawal (2005-), or by the fate […]

  10. […] out of their hair to get on their own two feet. One wonders how he would have covered the Gaza Sewage Tsunami, or the current civil war. […]

  11. […] billions of dollars in financial aid have absolutely nothing to show for it but graveyards and a Sewage Tsunami™. For those who are unfamiliar with this highly aromatic episode of supreme ironic justice, here […]

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