By Majd Kayyal, Palestinian writer from Haifa, and Sumaya Falah, environmental researcher from Haifa – February 24, 2017
Editorial note: As a rule, Orinoco Tribune does not generally re-publish opinion pieces more than 10 days after their original publication, but in this case we are making an exception, because this is an issue that demands attention.
One of the writers of this piece, Sumaya Falah, was arrested on January 11. She is being pursued by three Israeli security agencies, and has been subjected to many hours of excruciating interrogation. She is currently being held under house arrest (far from Haifa, where she resides with her family) and is completely prohibited from communicating with the outside world. She is being criminalized for having contact with the Palestinian diaspora, in an attempt to silence her and her work as a PhD student and researcher.
The “Peace Canal” project was reportedly scrapped by Jordan in June of last year. It is now looking to build a Red Sea desalination plant, to combat its shortage of drinking water. Israel, on the other hand, now has set its sights on doing further damage with the building of the Ben Gurion Canal. The proposed project would connect the Mediterranean Sea to the Red Sea, and be drilled through the desert of Al-Naqab, which would have devastating effects on the land and the 300,000 Palestinian Bedouins residing there.
Colonialism absorbs human life as well as nature, and the Israeli apartheid state’s relationship with the Dead Sea is a perfect example. After causing a dangerous drop in its water level, the apartheid state claims to have a plan to “revive” it with the so-called “Peace Canal”; however, in reality, the goal is to deplete it of its resources.
Attrition is an essential tactic used in the spread of colonialism: it sucks the life out of all things. It exploits and uses them up until they are exhausted, dry and diminished. Nature is depleted, along with humankind’s body and soul, and society at large. In the context of this all-encompassing process, the relationship between the local inhabitants and nature is destroyed. This nature is vital to the formation and distinction of any indigenous community and is host to essential pieces of that community’s identity; it remains embedded in the foundations of their human composition but is no longer able to adapt with change or evolve over time.
In terms of environmental, aesthetic and archaeological characteristics, there is nothing in all of Palestine that is comparable to the Dead Sea. There is also no more fitting example of the effects of colonial violence on nature and the environment. It is a blatant form of violence which originates in the Zionist ideological obsession of capitalist control over people, nature, and the relationship between the two. It exhausts, violates and kills nature, then claims to artificially “revive” it, after which it is left distorted, degraded, lacking in essence and completely cut off from the climatic, geological and geographical continuity of nature. All this, of course, is inseparable from capitalism’s destructive disposition towards all the world’s natural treasures, not just in Palestine.
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The circumstances of the crime
This is what we know about the lowest body of water on the surface of the earth: for 4,000 years the surface level of the Dead Sea kept relatively stable, ranging no more than 41 meters: from the Bronze age to the Iron Age, the lake fell from 370 meters to 411 meters below sea level. Climatic and geological changes altered the sea and its characteristics, and over time it became the natural phenomenon we know today.
Then the apartheid state came: the Dead Sea’s surface fell from 397 meters below sea level in 1968 (that is to say, a few months after the defeat and occupation of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Jordanian lands) to 430 meters below sea level in less than 50 years, surpassing its Iron Age record low. It has also shrunk from a surface area of over 960 square kilometers to only 620 square kilometers. In 1979, the sea, which is made up of two continuous sections, north and south, fell below the height of the part of land separating the sections, until it became two completely separate basins.
Ten years of apartheid destruction is equivalent to one thousand years of natural transformations. Factories that rob the sea’s bounties, its minerals and salt, have had a catastrophic effect, even though this is only the second reason for the decline in sea level. The first is attributed to the sharp weakening of the flow of the Jordan River, a result of the dams built by Zionists, south of Tabariyaa, to serve their settlements. This dates back to the 1930s, that is, before the Nakba. Around two decades later, the apartheid state began a new project diverting the waters of the Jordan River to the so-called “National Water Carrier of Israel,” thus reducing the flow rate from the river into the Dead Sea from 1250 million cubic meters in 1950 to 260 million cubic meters in 2010. The project was set up by the apartheid state to pump water from lake Tabariyaa to the depths of the territories occupied in 1948, and they confiscated hundreds of hectares of Palestinian lands in the Galilee region in particular, in service of Ben-Gurion’s dream: judaizing al-Naqab. To mitigate the negative impacts on the Dead Sea, neighboring Arab States resolved to reduce these catastrophic effects, such as with the construction of Eastern Ghor Canal in 1963 [the largest irrigation canal system in Jordan, extending about 110 kilometers east of the Jordan River, whose main water source is the Yarmouk River] among other projects. Ultimately, the flow of the Jordan River decreased by more than 80% as a result of the apartheid state’s exploitation of the river. All of the above are the causes of the catastrophic environmental destruction being witnessed today in Palestine, Jordan and the Dead Sea in particular. It has caused the sea’s surface area to shrink, as well as lowering the sea level further which has caused the massive proliferation of sinkholes, and the collapse and destruction of the region’s infrastructure, especially on the Jordanian side. This destruction also includes the drying up of the southern basin, which has almost quite literally disappeared.
Why the Dead Sea?
The Dead Sea water contains 343 grams of salt per liter, ten times more than the Mediterranean Sea, which makes the Dead Sea a reservoir of great industrial utility. Its water is rich in chemicals such as bromine, magnesium, sodium and potassium. Bromine is essential in various technological industries; magnesium is used in the manufacturing of cars and planes (the German company “Volkswagen” is a partner of one of the factories specialized in the production of magnesium); sodium for table salt; and potassium for the production of chemical fertilizers. The apartheid state supplies 9% of the world’s potassium, putting it in sixth place in world exports.
After the southern basin of the Dead Sea dried up, the apartheid state’s factories seized the opportunity to increase the pace of their production. Under the guise of “saving the Southern Basin,” it stepped up the construction of artificial ponds to extract around 600 million cubic meters of water from the northern basin, to complete the evaporation process by which the water dries up, precipitating salts which are then ready for dredging. In the dredged material there is a concentrated solution that gets extracted and sorted by its chemical type, after which it is distributed to factories for manufacture and export.
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This process, which “revives” the southern basin, essentially leads to a faster lowering of the sea level in the northern basin. According to our data, the amount of water that is extracted from the Dead Sea (total outflow) as a result of evaporation and industrial consumption is 1,404 million cubic meters annually, while the amount of water that flows into the Dead Sea (total incoming flow) is equal to only 696 million cubic meters, which comes from the valleys and the Jordan River, which naturally flows into the sea, as well as water that is returned from factories after it is used. The difference between outgoing and incoming flow is what the sea loses annually, an estimated 708 million cubic meters. According to our expectations, the continuation of this situation would lead to the sea rapidly shrinking into the size of a small lake, and the water level could plunge to 543 meters below sea level.
Saving the sea: a recipe for disaster
Now it’s time to remember to “conserve nature.” With the convergence of the interests of Jordan and the apartheid state, the Bahrain Canal project (or as the apartheid state calls it, the Peace Canal) began to be realized on the ground: a canal linking the Red Sea in the south to the Dead Sea, taking advantage of the difference in elevation between the two seas (~400 meters) which would be used to generate energy. The water that would be used to operate the plants, ~850 million cubic meters of water annually from the Red Sea, would be desalinated and transformed into potable water, while the highly saline water, left by the desalination process, would be pumped into the Dead Sea (~1,200 million cubic meters per year) in order to stabilize the sea level. This is the brilliant scheme that would absolve the apartheid state of its crimes.
• The apartheid state, the Jordanian government and the Palestinian Authority are participating in the Peace Canal project, with funding from the World Bank. According to Jordanian allegations, the most important motive behind the project (which has historical and colonial roots dating back to at least the 19th century) is the worsening of the water crisis in Jordan. The average water consumption in Jordan (by the best estimates) is 200 cubic meters per capita annually, while the water poverty line is equivalent to 1,000 cubic meters annually, according to the World Health Organization. Under the agreement, the entire project would be built on Jordanian land, with Jordanians bearing the majority of the costs of water and energy production. Also, it has become clear that the apartheid state companies working in the field of water technology (more than 300 of them) would control most of the tenders for the project, which is supposed to symbolize “cooperation and peace in the Middle East.”
The project that the apartheid state relies on to “save the Dead Sea” may raise the sea level (although this is debatable), but it will definitely not save the Dead Sea as a rare natural phenomenon; the flow of salt water from the Red Sea would completely change the quality of the water in the Dead Sea. The natural flow would be replaced by an influx of highly saline water resulting from the desalination process, which means that the Dead Sea water would lose its particular chemical compounds, resulting in massive environmental destruction and an unprecedented change to the environmental landscape. Studies that attempted to anticipate the environmental destruction that would result from the project—among many other calamities—emphasized a change in color of the sea with the mixing of the Red Sea’s water. This is due to the accumulation of gypsum crystals (caused by the mixing of Red Sea sulfate with Dead Sea calcium), which would turn into a white powder that sits on the surface of the water, altering its appearance and composition.
What’s in it for the apartheid state?
We do not know exactly where the apartheid state’s interests lie in accepting the launch of the canal project, although they will benefit greatly from Jordan’s water. Of course, they are not in a position where they have anything to lose, as the land is Jordanian and the money is both international and Jordanian. The benefit to the apartheid state’s companies would be significant, but the additional amount of water that would be allocated to them is not sufficient enough to warrant their cooperation; their interests probably lie in secret agreements or larger strategic geopolitical plans. Arab analysis of the project’s risks do not yet meet current needs, as they are often based on imagination rather than scientific knowledge. It is a subject that needs serious and in-depth study and invasive investigation. What is certain in all of this, is that the apartheid state and the World Bank’s attention to the Jordanian water crisis refuses to address the major historical injustice that left Jordan in a thirsty crisis in the first place; it seeks to divert attention away from the underlying cause.
The apartheid state has killed the Dead Sea; thanks to its terrifying greed and the ethnic cleansing that has taken place ever since the beginning of the Zionist project. There is nothing in this “peace” project except to preserve the corpse of the sea after its death; after the destruction of its aesthetic, ecological and historical grandeur. Thus, as water from the Red Sea is pumped into it, white plaster will float on its surface and bear witness to the crime. The only real solution to this ongoing and deepening disaster is to get the water back on track: literally, from the Jordan River to the Dead Sea. Such is the only appropriate solution to any question related to colonialism: it always begins with the word “return”.
Featured image: Palestine by Muhammad Nasrallah.
Translation: Orinoco Tribune’s Dana Nidal
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