Lawrence Wright wrote The Looming Tower and is generally considered to be a reasonable journalistic voice. His piece in the current New Yorker should tarnish his reputation for seriousness.
It is a long and credulous recitation of stories he heard on a trip to Gaza. It is at turns deceptive, inaccurate, incomplete, and downright mendacious. He calls Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, “a Fatah loyalist.” Fayyad is a member of the Third Way party, not Fatah. But that’s a nitpick. Here is a good example of one of Wright’s many more serious distortions:
We drove past the site of a former Jewish settlement. Across the road were the remains of the greenhouses that the settlers had left behind, intact, with the understanding that Gaza farmers would take them over. The greenhouses were meant to become an important part of the agricultural economy. Gaza’s main exports were strawberries, cherry tomatoes, and carnations, destined mainly for Israel and Europe. But then the borders clamped shut and the fruit rotted. The carnations were fed to livestock. Now the greenhouses are nothing more than bare frames, their tattered plastic roofing fluttering in the sea breeze.
So, there were nice greenhouses, but then “the borders clamped shut” and “now the greenhouses are nothing more than bare frames” — just one more example of Israeli cruelty and collective punishment. But how, exactly, did the greenhouses become bare frames? How can border closings physically destroy buildings? Isn’t this a bizarre and confusing way to describe a series of events?
It is written this way because Wright is trying to deceive his readers. He wants to leave the impression that Israeli border closures starved the Gaza economy so completely that the Palestinians had to let perfectly good greenhouses fall into decrepitude.
But that’s not what happened — not even close. Here is an AP report dated September 13, 2005 — days after the disengagement:
Looters strip Gaza greenhouses
NEVE DEKALIM, Gaza Strip – Palestinians looted dozens of greenhouses on Tuesday, walking off with irrigation hoses, water pumps and plastic sheeting in a blow to fledgling efforts to reconstruct the Gaza Strip.
American Jewish donors had bought more than 3,000 greenhouses from Israeli settlers in Gaza for $14 million last month and transferred them to the Palestinian Authority. …
Palestinian police stood by helplessly Tuesday as looters carted off materials from greenhouses in several settlements, and commanders complained they did not have enough manpower to protect the prized assets. In some instances, there was no security and in others, police even joined the looters, witnesses said.
This is a well-known story — one of the best-known stories of the disengagement, in fact. It has been reported and discussed extensively. Why would Wright lament the greenhouses without pointing out that the Palestinians themselves destroyed them? When you read the piece, you’ll understand why.