Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Ha'aretz decries purtported lack of pools for Palestinians.

This isn't of earth-shattering importance, but worth noting. When does advocacy journalism cross the line from journalism to fiction? When the facts it reports are false and the conclusions it reaches are baseless.

CAMERA: 'Last Refuge,' Latest Falsehood:

Gideon Levy's weekly column in Ha'aretz Magazine is aptly titled "Twilight Zone." At times, his reports have little or no connection to reality. This week's column ("Last refuge"), about Banana Land, "the first Palestinian water park," serves as a prime example.

Levy writes that Banana Land, a "pathetic" affair located in the northern outskirts of Jericho, is the only place where West Bank Palestinian children can swim:

There is not a single swimmer here without a life preserver -- where would a Palestinian child learn to swim? Even the Dead Sea, which is so close, is not open to Palestinians, although Defense Minister Ehud Barak recently promised publicly to the Americans and Palestinians to open the checkpoint that separates Jericho from the Dead Sea.

So Barak promised, so what. The checkpoint was open for two days and closed again. Now the only thing left is this water park as a last refuge for the hundreds of thousands of children and families in the West Bank to come and take a momentary break from life's tribulations. An oasis in the occupation, in the Jordan Valley. (Emphasis added.)

Pools in Every City

Fortunately for Palestinian children, but unfortunately for Gideon Levy, there are plenty of places where a Palestinian child can learn to swim. And Banana Land is hardly a "last refuge." As Levy's colleague at Ha'aretz, Avi Issacharoff wrote on Aug. 8, 2007:

Nowadays, every city in the West Bank has a pool or a recreational complex: Bethlehem has one similar to Al-Khaluf [a clover-leaf-shaped pool in Dura, near Hebron], while Ramallah has more than 10. One of Jenin's swimming champs committed a suicide bombing at Jerusalem's Sbarro restaurant in August 2001. Nablus has a pool reserved for women, and an Olympic pool. Another pool and recreation complex sits between Nablus and Tubas.

Al Khaluf draws more than 2,500 people on an average weekend day, [lifeguard Ahmed] Rajoub says. ("West Bank swimming pools help Palestinians brave the heat")

Unless you're Gideon Levy, it's simple to find photographic evidence of Palestinians enjoying themselves in pools all over the West Bank -- even without life preservers. The following is a sample of such images of pools in Jenin, Ramallah, near Nablus, Jericho and Hebron. They are drawn from major photo services, and are accompanied by their original captions:

Palestinian boys enjoy themselves at a swimming pool in a park near the West Bank town of Jenin, Thursday, July 26, 2007. (AP Photo/Mohammed Ballas)

A Palestinian boy jumps into a swimming pool in the West Bank city of Jenin (Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
Palestinian youths jump into a swimming pool as they enjoy the water during a hot summer day at a park near the West Bank city of Ramallah, Monday, July 30, 2007 (Photo by Muhammed Muheisen/AP)
Palestinians enjoy themselves at a swimming pool in a park near the West Bank city of Nablus, Friday, July 13, 2007 (Photo by Nasser Ishtayeh/AP)

Palestinian jumps into a swimming pool in the West Bank town of Jericho. (Photo by Ammar Awad/Reuters, April 15, 2008) CAMERA Note: This appears to be another pool in Jericho, not Banana Land. According to Levy, Banana Land has "two tiny swimming pools." This pool does not appear to be "tiny." It should also be noted that none of those pictured here are wearing life preserves, contrary to Levy's description of Banana Land.

A Palestinian boy jumps into the swimming pool in Hebron (Photo by Nayef Hashlamoun/Reuters)

Palestinian youth enjoy cooling down at the local swimming baths in the West Bank town of Hebron, 25 June 2007. (Photo by Hazem Bader/AFP)

Children play in the swimming pool at the Mukhmas Funland amusement park in Ramallah Thursday, July 5, 2007 (Photo by Rachael Strecher/AP)

Searches also turn up Aug. 29, 2007 Getty Images photos by David Silverman of Palestinian children cooling off at a swimming pool in the West Bank village of Ein Beida., the Web site which carries these images, does not allow for the copying or saving of its images, but they can be found using google searches.

School Outings

Levy reports: "Meanwhile, the school outings are divided between boys and girls -- Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday for girls; Monday and Wednesday for boys."

He is apparently unaware that late last month, the frequent Palestinian school trips to swimming pools (and not just Banana Land), were banned. As Maan News Agency reported on April 22, 2008:

The Palestinian ministry of education has banned swimming during school trips after a boy drowned in a swimming pool in Jericho last week.

10-year-old Yasser Abd Al-Baqi from Bizaria, Nablus district, drowned in a swimming pool in the Popeye Park in Jericho on April 19.

Thus, while things ended very badly for 10-year-old Yasser Abd Al-Baqi at Popeye Park in Jericho, its existence proves that Banana Land is not the "last refuge" in Jericho, nevermind the entire West Bank.

Palestinian Water Parks

In the first paragraph of "Last Refuge," Levy insists that Banana Land, opened in October 2007, is "the first Palestinian water park," despite the fact that the Los Angeles Times printed a 933-word article back on July 22, 2002 entitled: "Palestinians' Slice of Paradise on the Frontline: Mideast: A water park provides relief from the heat and the trials of Israeli occupation. But economic hard times are keeping many away." Barbara Demick wrote about the Beit Jalla facility, which opened in the summer of 2000:

Improbably enough, a sprawling water park with a swimming pool, sparkling fountains, fanciful water wheel and a water slide is hidden away in this Palestinian town next to Bethlehem. . . .

The water park was the inspiration of a Palestinian American businesmann, 49-year-old Jadallah Zaidan.

But the Beit Jalla water park was also not the first. Abdulsalam and Baslan Fares opened a water park sometime before September 2000 in Al Badhan (Michael Matza, Philadelphia Inquirer, May 12, 2005). Baslan Fares testified to B'Tselem that in September 2006 Israeli army closures forced his business to shut down. Nevertheless, there were at least a couple of West Bank water/amusement parks predating Banana Land.
Chances are, if a Palestinian child from Jenin, Ramallah, Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem or Jericho would read "Last Refuge," they wouldn't recognize Levy's description as relating to their lives. His piece is yet another example of what Israeli writer Irit Linor once described as "Planet Ha'aretz." Landing in the "Twilight Zones," readers in the know might muse, "Beam me up, Scottie. There's no intelligent life down here."

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