The Lucrative Business of Israel-Bashing

The MacArthur genius grants are to be officially announced today, and along with deserving recipients such as Jerry Mitchell, a very brave journalist I know from my work on Preacher Killen,  and Lynsey Addario, a very brave photographer, the documentary maker James Longley shows up on the list. I'm somewhat familiar with his work on Gaza, and, alas, it's no surprise he's on the list. Longley's anti-Israel propaganda isn't particularly clever (though it's well-shot, if memory serves). In fact, it's entirely typical of the genre. Here's a statement from his website about his understanding of Gaza:

To my great relief, the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip turned out to be people like everyone else. It's the situation they find themselves in that is extraordinary: The Gaza Strip is essentially an open-air prison for Palestinian refugees, guarded on all sides by the Israeli military. Barely 28 miles long and 4 miles wide, it contains more than 1,200,000 Palestinians - over one third of them living in squalid refugee camps built in 1948 to hold the people forced out of their homes by the creation of modern-day Israel. It is one of the most densely populated places on the planet. Nobody can pass through its borders without the permission of the Israeli soldiers. Like the West Bank, the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. Most people living in the Gaza Strip have never known a single day of real freedom.

Okay, one by one: "Palestinians in the Gaza Strip turned out to be people like everyone else." Essentially true -- I make much the same argument in my book on the subject. Except that some residents of Gaza are, in fact, members of a suicide terrorist organization who seek out their enemy's children to kill. This is fairly unusual. Only the Tamils in Sri Lanka have constructed a similar cult. So this would be worth mentioning.

"The Gaza Strip is essentially an open-air prison for Palestinian refugees, guarded on all sides by the Israeli military." No, not true. The Strip shares a border with Egypt, an Arab state.

"[I]t contains more than 1,200,000 Palestinians - over one third of them living in squalid refugee camps built in 1948 to hold the people forced out of their homes by the creation of modern-day Israel." There are very few refugees left in Gaza. The children and grandchildren of these refugees are not, according to international law, refugees. They are only considered "refugees" because the Arab states have refused to resettle them or build them permanent housing. Also, not all Palestinians who fled Israel in 1948 were "driven out." Some fled areas of fighting, some were expelled by Jewish forces, and some left of their own accord.

"It is one of the most densely populated places on the planet." Not true. Most cities in the world are more densely populated than Gaza. Manhattan, for instance, is more densely populated than Gaza. Also, Cairo. And many suburbs of major cities, as well.

"Nobody can pass through its borders without the permission of the Israeli soldiers."  Not true. The Egyptians could lift their blockade of Gaza, which would allow easy passage.

"Like the West Bank, the Gaza Strip has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967." Not true. During the 1990s, most parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip were under the control of the Palestinian Authority. In 2005, Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers from Gaza and turned over control of the entire area to the Palestinian Authority.

"Most people living in the Gaza Strip have never known a single day of real freedom." See above. This is partially true, though Gaza knew no freedom when it was occupied by the Egyptian military until 1967. And of course, "real freedom" is not a prevailing condition in most of the Arab Middle East. But Longley is not interested in the complications of life in the Arab world, or in Israel, and God knows, he could make honest films that still expose various Israeli sins. But he doesn't seem to be someone who closely adheres to the truth. He seems mainly interested, in the Middle East context, in libeling Israel. Which, of course, is good for business, as we see this week.

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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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