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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Israel’s Dead Sea Claim: Illegal and Absurd

An aerial view photo shows large salt formations in the southern part of the Dead Sea, near Ein Boqek, on 10 November 2011. The Dead Sea is one of the 28 sites involved in a international online campaign to select the new Seven Wonders of World Heritage Sites. (Photo: AFP - Menahem Kahana)

Published Monday, November 14, 2011
Israel’s failed bid for inclusion of the Dead Sea in the New7Wonders of Nature competition prompted a range of emotions including skepticism, indifference and laughter. “It makes me laugh that Israel thinks it can claim the Dead Sea as its own,” says Jordanian-Palestinian filmmaker Mais Darwazeh. “It is not only historically wrong, it is also illegal.”

“Israel has not only occupied Palestinian land. It has also occupied the air and the water,” said Darwazeh, who is currently working on a new film titled Habibi Byistannani Aala El-Bahr (My Love Awaits Me By the Sea). While the global competition may appear to lack political significance, “inclusion into the list could mean many a push for the tourism industry,” she added.

The Dead Sea shores are divided between Jordanian and Palestinian lands (both 1948 land - current day Israel - and the occupied West bank). “But Palestinians are forbidden from visiting the Dead Sea,” said Islah Jad, a co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

“When my children were younger I used to take them there,” says Jad. As with Jerusalem, Israel has blocked us off from the Dead Sea.”

In more ways than one, Israel’s representation of the Dead Sea - which holds profound cultural, historical and scientific value - mirrors its behavior as an illegal occupier. “Israel has caused irreparable harm to the Dead Sea,” says Jad, who explained that the Hula and Tabariya lakes that feed the sea are fast drying up because of Israel’s abusive exploitation of their waters.

“Each year, the Dead Sea becomes saltier. It is so heavy in mineral content now that even the birds have had to alter their migratory routes, as they can no longer pause at the Dead Sea’s shores,” Jad added. “This bid is all about public relations. It isn’t genuine. Israel has plenty of NGOs whose mandate is to protect the environment, and at the same time, it has done so much to destroy the Palestinian environment.”

For instance, both settlers and the army have consistently destroyed not only Palestinian homes but also trees and, as such, livelihoods.

More broadly, Palestinians’ lack of access to the Dead Sea from the West Bank is coupled with a prohibition on reaching the Mediterranean Sea. To Darwazeh, whose films show a deep preoccupation with the question of Palestinian collective memory, “while children are told their country borders two seas, those living in the West Bank have access to neither.”

But neither Darwazeh nor Jad were keen to over-emphasise opposition to Israel’s claim. “I just think it’s stupid. I really couldn’t care less, because I know that everything that has been stolen will return one day,” said Darwazeh.

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