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October 09, 2012

The Atlantic and Wolfensohn's Strawberries

gaza looted greenhouse wolfensohn.jpg
A Palestinian looter carries away equipment from a hothouse donated by James Wolfensohn and other Jewish American donors (2005 Photo by Emilio Morenatti /AP)

The Atlantic's Steve Clemons gives a highly selective account of James Wolfensohn's involvement with Gaza's strawberry crops to make the argument that Israel's occupation prevents the Palestinian economy from growing. Just like his distorted account of Wolfenshon and the strawberries, his larger thesis does not take into account any Palestinian responsibility for their economic problems. About the former head of the World Bank, Clemons writes:

Wolfensohn invested his own money in an effort to get Palestinian-grown strawberries to markets in Europe and worked out deals with the Israelis and established a greenhouse project and processing infrastructure at Israel's Karni Crossing. To make a long and sad story short, even the great James Wolfensohn failed to overcome Israeli arbitrariness in what it allowed and didn't in terms of earnest Palestine commerce with the rest of the world.

What does Clemons forget to mention about Wolfensohn and Gaza's strawberries? When Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, Wolfensohn organized American Jewish donors to buy Gaza hothouses from settlers and hand them over to the Palestinians, who proceded to vandalize and loot them, as opposed to make use of them. Wolfensohn put up $500,000 of his own money. As the Associated Press reported at the time:

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. Former World Bank President James Wolfensohn, who brokered the deal, put up $500,000 of his own cash.

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. . . .

The failure of the security forces to prevent scavenging and looting in the settlements after Israel’s troop pullout Monday raised new concerns about Gaza’s future.

Indeed, Israeli restrictions on Gaza exports, including strawberries, have harmed the industry. But Clemons ignores the Palestinians' own role in harming the industry which Wolfensohn literally handed them on a platter. As Haim Harari put it:

Israel withdraws from Gaza and leaves intact greenhouses that could provide employment to numerous unemployed Palestinians. The greenhouses are destroyed, under the supervision of the Hamas and their metal parts are sold as scrap metal or used as raw material for more primitive rockets. The greenhouse area becomes a launching pad for rockets into Israeli villages.

Clemons takes Mitt Romney to task for assessing "Palestine's economic potential without considering that all they have done has been done under Occupation, with barriers to travel and commerce embedded throughout their territory which Israel occupies and dominates, often brutally." Clemons himself is guilty of looking at only part of the story, and in his story, he does not consider what Palestinians have done to stymie their own economy.

Posted by TS at October 9, 2012 06:05 AM


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