The story began circulating over the weekend, and by Monday several large media outlets, including Agence France-Presse and the Daily Mail, had published stories alleging that Israel had opened a series of dams, leading to flooding across the central Gaza Strip.
The only problem was that there are no dams around the Gaza Strip.
"There are no dams in the southern Israel. This is a false story that circulates every winter. There are flash floods across southern Israel, but there are simply no dams in southern Israel," said Hadar Horn, a spokesperson for Israel's coordination office for the Palestinian territories. "This is a lie."
In Gaza, the story of the dams has long been circulated as an explanation for why the central Gaza Strip floods during the winter. One Palestinian official, who spoke to BuzzFeed on condition of anonymity, said the rumor could be traced back more than a decade.
"It is easy to say it is dams, easier than saying that the problem is infrastructure — not having infrastructure, having bad infrastructure, having what little infrastructure Gaza destroyed each time there is way — that is the truth," said the official, who spoke by phone from Gaza. He asked to remain anonymous as his statements did not coincide with those made by Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. "If we could rebuild Gaza, we could build a system that dealt with these horrible floods. But Gaza is in ruins, there is nowhere for the water to go, and each year it will be the same unless someone helps us."
At least 80 Palestinian families were evacuated this week after water levels in the Gaza Valley (Wadi Gaza) rose to almost three meters. The original AFP story quoted Gaza's Ministry of Interior which claimed, "By [Israel] opening the channels they flooded many homes... We had to evacuate as quickly as possible."
The focus of the story then became the inaccuracy regarding Israel's dams, rather than the annual flooding.
AFP has removed the original video and report. Other versions remain online that show the report, bookmarked by statements questioning its veracity.
Much of Gaza's infrastructure has been destroyed, or left largely damaged by three successive wars between Israel and the Gaza Strip.
Following last summer's war, several human rights groups said that Gaza was "on the brink of collapse." Power outages and sewage floods have long plagued the Gaza Strip, with health care workers reporting an increase in diseases due to untreated sewage finding its way into Gaza's aquifers.
The U.N. says that more than 100,000 people remain displaced since the war, many of them still sleeping in makeshift tents. During this month's unusually cold winter storms, at least three children in the Gaza Strip froze to death.
"The situation in Gaza is bad enough, it is misery," said Muhamed Yasin, a 52-year-old father of five who currently lives in a U.N. shelter in Gaza. "I don't know who is to blame for the flooding. But in Gaza we don't need more people to blame. We need it to get better."
Sheera Frenkel is a cybersecurity correspondent for BuzzFeed News based in San Francisco. She has reported from Israel, Egypt, Jordan and across the Middle East. Her secure PGP fingerprint is 4A53 A35C 06BE 5339 E9B6 D54E 73A6 0F6A E252 A50F
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