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Israel And Gaza: A Crack In The Stalemate.

New Yorker writer Lawrence Wright spent three weeks in Gaza late last year. Wright discusses Israel's recent easing of the Gaza blockade -- and explains what it could mean for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations.


Other segments from the episode on June 22, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, June 22, 2010: Interview with Lawrence Wright; Review of Jason Moran and The Bandwagon's album "Ten."


Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Israel And Gaza: A Crack In The Stalemate


This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Israel announced Sunday that it will ease its blockade of Gaza,
expanding the goods allowed into that Palestinian territory. The
decision came three weeks after a flotilla challenging the blockade was
attacked by Israeli commandos. Nine people aboard were killed.

That commando attack was criticized by many countries around the world
and focused attention on conditions in Gaza. Israel began the blockade
in June, 2007, after Hamas gained political control of Gaza.

That was a year after the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was taken
prisoner by Palestinians in a cross-border raid and held in Gaza. Israel
has been trying to get him back ever since, and his imprisonment has
become a rallying point in Israel. Friday is the fourth anniversary of
Shalit's abduction.

My guest, Lawrence Wright, spent three weeks in Gaza last fall and wrote
an article about what he observed in the New Yorker. He's a staff writer
for the magazine. He's also the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning
book "The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11."

Lawrence Wright, welcome back to FRESH AIR. Now that Israel is easing
the blockade, what do you know of what will be allowed in that was not
allowed in during the full blockade?

Mr. LAWRENCE WRIGHT (Staff Writer, The New Yorker; Author, "The Looming
Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11"): They say they're going to allow,
you know, unlimited food and other kinds of clothing materials and so
on. I think that they're still very concerned about items that could be
construed as having a use in weapons or building bunkers, for instance
concrete and construction materials. That's been a hang-up all along. So
this is going to be a difficult point for the Israelis.

GROSS: Now, I think they said they were allowing in construction
materials, but they're not going to allow in certain dual-use materials.
So you think that some construction materials will be considered dual-
use and still not be allowed in?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, for instance, I was told by a spokesperson for the
Israeli Defense Forces that concrete was not allowed in the past. Why?
Because it might be used to construct bunkers for Hamas leaders, and
also, it's used as ballast in these homemade rockets that are fired into
Israel. And so for that reason, there's been a ban on concrete, which is
essential, of course, to building houses.

GROSS: What did Gaza look like when you were there late last year,
during the full blockade, when construction materials were included in
the blockade, in other words they were not allowed in?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, it looked like the war had just ended. You know, there
was no reconstruction at all. About 20 percent of the housing stock in
the whole country was fully or partially destroyed, and that included,
you know, some 240 schools and a number of hospitals, and it was quite
shocking because the place was just riddled with artillery shells and
bullet holes and houses that had been bulldozed.

It was, you know, the northern area, which was the industrial district,
it was pretty much leveled by bulldozers. So all of the industrial base
had essentially been destroyed.

GROSS: Now, you said that one of the paradoxes of the blockade was that
Hamas rocket-builders and bomb-makers could smuggle what they needed
through the tunnels, but aid organizations had to account for every
brick or sack of flour.

Mr. WRIGHT: This is a huge quandary for the Israelis because Hamas could
bring in practically anything that they wanted through the tunnels, and
they had the money to do so. But ordinary people in Gaza were really
impoverished by this blockade.

So getting access to ordinary requirements of daily life, you know, food
clothing, that kind of thing, medicines, was much more difficult. So it
really had the opposite effect, I think, of what the blockade was
intended to do.

GROSS: Now, you mentioned the tunnels. Would you describe what the
tunnels are like and how they operate?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, the tunnels are in the southern part of the Gaza
Strip, right next to the Egyptian border, which is nine miles long. You
know, we're talking about sand essentially. So they bore down 30, 40, 50
feet, straight down, and then they turn the corner and head to Egypt.

And they come out on the other side usually in some predesignated house,
like they'll come up inside the kitchen or something like that. So you
wouldn't be able to see the actual exit hole for the tunnel.

And goods are brought into the Rafah-Egyptian side. And they're brought
into the house. They're put into a hole in the ground. They're sent
down, using a winch, down to where the tunnel floor greets the lateral
part of the tunnel, and then the smugglers haul it across, sometimes
using electrical winches to drag it through the hole, and it's brought
up on the other side.

GROSS: So on both sides, are the entrances and exits in somebody's home?

Mr. WRIGHT: No, no. When the – on the Gaza side, it's quite open. There
were hundreds of tunnel operators. In fact, this was the only
construction activity I saw when I was in Gaza. The tunnel operators
were, at that time, reconstructing the tunnels that had been bombed
during Operation Cast Lead by the Israeli Air Force.

GROSS: And this was in late 2008, that operation, that three-week-long

Mr. WRIGHT: Right. The air war began in December of 2008, and the
tunnels were one of the very first targets. So many of them were
destroyed, and not all of them were, but the reconstruction activity was
quite brisk.

It became the major source of Hamas' tax revenue because they taxed the
goods that came through the tunnels.

GROSS: That's how open they were on the Gaza side?

Mr. WRIGHT: That's how – yeah. You know, they had tents covering the
holes, but it looked like a prairie-dog town all along the Egyptian
border. There were hundreds of guys there, hard at work on various

GROSS: So have the tunnels been the most functioning part of the economy
in Gaza?

Mr. WRIGHT: Really the major part of the functioning economy. The
legitimate economy had been pretty much wiped out, and so it was mainly
smugglers and black-marketeers who were making a living there.

GROSS: And from what you could tell in your three weeks reporting from
Gaza, how much of it was coming through those tunnels at that time was
weapons-oriented, and how much of it was, you know, like food, medicine,
construction materials, things like that?

Mr. WRIGHT: It would be impossible for me to judge. I was told that, by
a Hamas rocketeer(ph) that they were rebuilding, and they were getting
new materials in. You know, how much of that, I don't know.

GROSS: Rebuilding what, rocket-making stuff, or rebuilding homes?

Mr. WRIGHT: No, they were rebuilding the rockets. It was clear that
nobody was rebuilding their homes. But they were able to get materials
and perhaps actual rockets - pre-manufactured rockets - in through the
tunnels. There's no question that they were doing that.

GROSS: How do you get a rocket through a fairly small tunnel?

Mr. WRIGHT: Terry, you're misconceiving of the tunnel.

GROSS: Okay, they're not fairly small, huh?

Mr. WRIGHT: They bring automobiles through there. They bring cows. It's
– you know, the cars, of course, they are dissembled and reassembled on
the other side, but they are substantial, some of these tunnels. They're
not just – you can walk through them. You don't have to crawl through

GROSS: So with the Israeli blockade easing, do you think the tunnels are
likely to stay fully operational?

Mr. WRIGHT: The tunnels are going to go away. The Egyptians were putting
a halt to it. The Egyptians had decided that they were going to dig a
new wall along their nine-mile border that would be sunk 60 to 90 feet
into the soil to block these tunnels.

So they were drawing an underground curtain across the border, and it
was nearly finished when the flotilla arrived, and politically, the
situation dramatically changed.

GROSS: Now, why does Egypt want to lay this underground curtain that
will make tunneling impossible?

Mr. WRIGHT: Egypt's main goal is to make sure that Gaza stays Israel's
problem. For one thing, Hamas is really the creation of the Egyptian
Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian government is terrified of
contamination. The last thing they want is blowback from Hamas into

And so they've been cooperating with the Israeli authorities and
maintaining this blockade.

GROSS: So Israel has been under attack from Hamas. Are you saying that
Egypt is afraid it could be under attack from Hamas, as well?

Mr. WRIGHT: Oh, yeah, in fact, Egypt has had a historic problem keeping
the lid on its Islamist groups. It's been a very, very bloody war since
the late '80s. And the last thing the Egyptians want to see is any
resurgence of that kind of violence, and the most likely source of it,
in their opinion, would be through Hamas coming back into Egypt through
the Muslim Brotherhood.

GROSS: My guest is Lawrence Wright. He's a staff writer for the New
Yorker and spent three weeks in Gaza late last year. We'll talk more
about Gaza and Israel after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Lawrence Wright. He's a
staff writer for the New Yorker. Because Israel has said it's easing its
blockade of Gaza. We invited him to talk with us about Gaza. He spent
three weeks there at the end of 2009 and wrote about it for the New

Was it hard for you, as a journalist, to get into Gaza?

Mr. WRIGHT: No. It wasn't that difficult. I made application for a press
pass, and I told the Israeli authorities that I planned to write about
Gaza. I had no opposition to it.

There were, you know, no other reporters - maybe one other reporter
there. Very few foreigners come, very few political figures. It was a
pretty much forgotten corner of the world when I was there.

GROSS: Since the Israeli blockade of Gaza is being eased, this would be
a good time to hear your impressions of life in Gaza. Your article in
the New Yorker was titled "Captives." I think that tells us something
about what you thought of life there.

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, Gaza is a strip 25 miles long, seven miles wide at its
widest point, and there are a million and a half people inside it. Most
of them have never been outside of it. Two-thirds of kids under 18 have
never been outside of Gaza's 140 square miles.

Many of the Gazans haven't even ever been to the West Bank. So they
don't really know anything about the rest of the occupied territories.
It's a very isolated population.

It's not uneducated. They have a very high rate of literacy. In the mid-
'90s, their poverty rate was almost equivalent to that in the United
States. So it was a fairly well-educated, rather prosperous place, and
that prosperity is completely gone now.

Much of it depended on work in Israel, and in the mid-'80s, 100,000
Gazans were going to work in Israel every day, and tens of thousands of
Israelis were coming to Gaza for the seafood and the beaches. It was a
much more prosperous, open place with a lot more promise than it has

GROSS: Now you describe Gaza as a sea of children. You say the average
woman has 5.1 children, one of the highest birthrates in the world, and
more than half of the population, is that right, are children.

Mr. WRIGHT: More than half are 18 years old or younger. And yeah, when
you're there, you're just overwhelmed by how youthful the population is.
And this is a very worrisome fact to the Israelis who often talk about
the demographic time bomb, kids just all over the place.

And there's very little for them to do. You know, when I was there, the
blockade included a ban on toys, and many of the sports facilities had
been bombed by the Israelis. The Islamists had burned down all of the
movie theaters in the '80s, and the main diversion for children was the

But the beach, it was stained and stinking from the fact that they dump
20 million gallons a day of raw and partially treated sewage offshore.
So you could smell it, and the spare parts...

GROSS: Who is the they that you refer to?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, this is – the Gazan sewage plant was destroyed in
Operation Cast Lead. So now the sewage just simply just streams out –
some of it is treated, much of it is not, and it is just offloaded in a
pipe into the Mediterranean.

And it is - to me one of the starkest contrasts was walking along the
beach in Tel Aviv, which has just beautiful, you know, these topaz
water, just exquisite. And that same ocean, only 50 or 60 miles south of
there, is discolored and ugly and full of kids and fishermen out there
with their nets trying to catch fish. It was a pretty unsettling sight.

GROSS: So if half of the population in Gaza is under 18, are these young
people getting an education? Are schools functioning now?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, 200 and some-odd schools were damaged or destroyed in
the war. So it's difficult for them. But they are still getting an
education. There is – despite all the troubles, you know, there is a
life. Kids go to school. The government functions in – you know, I mean,
the streets are kept swept, despite the fact that the garbage trucks had
been destroyed. They're using donkey carts and so on.

So there's the semblance of life, but what struck me, it had a pre-
industrial quality to it. There are cars. There are not very many, but
you see many donkey taxis and that kind of thing. It has really been
taken back to another age.

GROSS: Remind us how the Israeli blockade of Gaza was started, how and

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, there were two instances. One was in June, 2006, a
young Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit was abducted from a crossing
called Kerem Shalom in southwestern Israel. And since then, he's been
held captive.

The Israelis surrounded the strip, sealed off the borders, went
rummaging through the residential areas looking for him. Four hundred
Gazans were killed in the next several months during this, and the
Israelis said they weren't going to leave until they had recaptured
Gilad Shalit. But by November, it became pretty obvious that that wasn't
going to happen.

Then in 2007, there was an election in the Palestinian territories, and
to the astonishment of practically the entire world community, Hamas

Now this was really shocking, especially in Israel, because Hamas is
dedicated to the elimination of Israel. And when in June of that year,
Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and expelled the Fatah government, which
after all had been defeated in the election but had been refusing to
concede power. The Israelis declared Gaza a hostile entity, as if the
entire population of Gaza was affiliated with Hamas. And that's when
they began imposing this very strict blockade.

GROSS: When you were reporting from Gaza, did you also go to Israel and
see what it was like for Israelis who often came under rocket attack
from Gaza?

Mr. WRIGHT: Oh, yeah, I spent time on the borders and especially in the
Sderat, which is – there's actually a rocket museum there behind the
police station where they keep the carcasses of these old rockets that
they've picked up.

And it's impressive. There are hundreds and hundreds of them, and some
of them had been signed by the rocket designer, and some are, you know,
have greater range than others. That's, I think, one of the problems
that precipitated the war is that the Israelis began to sense that the
range of these rockets was getting greater, and the destructive power
was greater.

So one thing they wanted to do was to shut off that barricade of rockets
that were coming after them.

But the thing is, Terry, you know, at times, the rockets had essentially
stopped. I mean, there was a truce before Operation Cast Lead that had
pretty much throttled the rockets that were flying into Southern Israel.

And unfortunately, both sides violated the spirit of that; Hamas by
trying to capture another Israeli soldier, and the Israelis by not
easing the blockade, as Hamas had said that they had assumed they would.
So Hamas refused to extend the truce, and that's what led to Operation
Cast Lead.

GROSS: What has the state of rocket attacks been like during the

Mr. WRIGHT: Very few attacks since then, and to some extent, that's
largely thanks to Hamas, who has been able to control the rocket

I was told that, you know, some of the – there are some residual
attacks, some of them, according to Hamas authorities, by – that had
been paid for by tunnelers who wanted to make sure that the blockade
continued, and some by rival factions, of which there are a number, much
more radical groups that Hamas tries to keep under control.

GROSS: So you attribute the diminishing of rocket attacks to Hamas'
control and not to the success of the Israeli blockade of Gaza?

Mr. WRIGHT: I think that if Hamas were to decide to pull the brakes off,
that there would be a tremendous flurry of rocket attacks. I think that
they must have the supplies and probably the rockets assembled. It's not
unlimited, but I think that the fact is that Hamas has declared the
rocketeers to be criminals and asked them to, you know, hold off on any
attacks on Israel.

And there's no question that the number of attacks has fallen. The
Israelis did accomplish their goal in, you know, eliminating any kind of
armed resistance through Operation Cast Lead, and no doubt they crushed
the rocket-makers and rounded up lots and lots of materiel that could
have been used for rocket-making.

But the Israelis also say that Hamas has been replenishing those very
items, you know, and that rockets themselves have been brought in,
Iranian rockets. So it's hard to know how much has actually been
accomplished until you see another conflict, just as you saw with
Hezbollah in Lebanon. The arsenal doesn't really become apparent until
the conflict begins.

GROSS: My guest, Lawrence Wright, will be back in the second half of the
show. He's a staff writer for the New Yorker and author of the Pulitzer
Prize-winning book "The Looming Tower: al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11."
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Lawrence Wright.
We're talking about life in Gaza, Israel's easing of its blockade of
goods going to Gaza and the threat posed to Israel by Hamas, which
politically controls Gaza.

Wright spent three weeks in Gaza last year and wrote about it for The
New Yorker. He's a staff writer for the magazine. He's also the author
of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Looming Tower: Al-Qaida and the
Road to 9/11." This Friday is the fourth anniversary of the capture of
Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has since been held in Gaza.

Part of the reason for the Israeli blockade of Gaza is the capture by
Hamas of the Israeli - the young Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. And his
role as a captive has taken on such a huge significance and symbolic
importance in Israel. Can you talk about how he became that important?

Mr. WRIGHT: It's fascinating to me because he occupies a place in
Israeli psychology that is hard for Americans to appreciate. Very few
Americans realize that a young American soldier, Beau Bergdahl, was
taken captive by the Taliban and has been held for several years. You
rarely hear his name mentioned. But in Israel, the name of Gilad Shalit
is on everybody's lips. He's on bumper stickers. People voted for him
for premier. There are tickers on the Internet sites for newspapers
about how many minutes and seconds he's been held in captivity.

There's a tent set up opposite the prime minister's house in Jerusalem
where Shalit's father and other supporters gather to make sure that
everybody remembers Shalit. There's some eerie sites of, you know, these
giant, life-size cardboard cutouts of Shalit people carry in marches, so
it looks like hundreds and hundreds of Shalits marching down the street.

The political pressure in Israel to try to make a deal with Shalit is
very great. And yet, everybody recognizes it. The costs are also very

GROSS: The cost being?

Mr. WRIGHT: The Hamas government initially asked for 1,000 Palestinian
prisoners to be released in exchange for Shalit, and that number rose to
1,400 after a year. And 450 of those are people who have been convicted
of terrorist crimes. So this is not just - you know, there are many
people who have been detained in Israel and many that have been held for
stone throwing charges and this sort of thing. But we're talking about
some of the most notorious killers that are in Israeli jails. And those
are the people who the Hamas government would like to redeem.

Now, Israel has a history of making these kind of lopsided prisoner
swaps. And in 1985, for instance, there was a similar deal for Israeli
soldiers in southern Lebanon, and the people that were exchanged in
that, more than a thousand of them, some of them included the very
people that came back to Palestine and to Gaza and started Hamas,
including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, the quadriplegic schoolteacher who was
really the spiritual godfather of Hamas.

So Israelis realize that there's a real cost to these kinds of prisoner
exchanges. And yet there's this mandate inside Israel to make sure that
their soldiers are taken care of. Everybody in Israel, essentially, is
subject to becoming a part of the army. And so it's universal
conscription, and there's a sense of that this could be anyone. This
could be our son. So there's a tremendous investment in Israel in trying
to free Gilad Shalit.

GROSS: What do you think about when you think about the math involved
and the kind of equation that you've been talking about? How many
prisoners is one soldier's freedom worth? How big a crackdown is a
soldier's freedom worth? What goes through your mind when you're
reporting on that kind of math?

Mr. WRIGHT: I was preoccupied by this. I - you know, because how do you
establish the value of a human life? You know, this is a question that
Jewish law has dealt with. I mean, in the Mishnah, you'll find that, you
know, there's a statement that you cannot ransom a hostage for more than
his actually value because it upsets the balance of the universe.

But it also states that the longer a hostage remains captive in cases in
which he could be ransomed is tantamount to murder. So there's this, you
know, kind of contradictory mandate built inside Jewish law.

Then there's the idea that one life, one Jewish life might be worth
1,400 Palestinian lives. What does that say about the mentality of both
sides? One, that our lives are so much more valuable that we would
consider negotiating the release of 1,400 people. And the other is that
our lives are so devalued that we would demand 1,400 Palestinians in
exchange for our one Israeli.

I think it's a really profound question. And I think that in this
impasse between these two historic enemies, this question of the value
of each other's lives is really at the root of the psychological problem
that is preventing them from dealing squarely with each other.

GROSS: When you've reported from Gaza and from Israel, have you felt
that each side comprehends the other side's humanity and the other
side's suffering?

Mr. WRIGHT: Not at all. No. This is the thing that is so striking to me,
that each side is so dehumanized in the eyes of the other. And there's
this sometimes overtly stated but often implied, they got what they
deserved. You hear that in one form or another so many times.

And, for instance, when I was talking to this young Hamas rocketeer: Do
you feel guilty about sending these rockets into civilian areas? No. No.
I mean, they're not limiting their war to civilians, so why should I
feel guilty? That's the mentality that you're dealing with. It's very

I've spent a lot of time in the Middle East. But when you talk to people
about the current situation, there's a sense that nothing can change.
And it's that feeling that nothing good can happen and only bad can
develop, that is what's really crippling the whole region and it's
murderous on the peace process.

GROSS: My guest is Lawrence Wright. He's a staff writer for The New
Yorker and spent three weeks in Gaza late last year.

We'll talk more about Gaza and Israel after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: We're talking about Gaza and Israel with Lawrence Wright, a staff
writer for The New Yorker. He spent three weeks in Gaza late last year.
He's also the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The Looming
Tower: Al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11."

You've put together a monologue, or a one-man show - whichever you
prefer to call it - called "The Human Scale" that's about Gaza and
Israel. You've done a few workshop performances, and you plan to do it
again in the fall, produced by the Public Theater in New York. Why did
you want to do a stage performance about Gaza?

Mr. WRIGHT: No I...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WRIGHT: I did one before called "My Trip to Al-Qaida and...

GROSS: Which was filmed. It's a subject of a documentary.

Mr. WRIGHT: Right. HBO's going to air it this fall. But it's odd. I
agree. I mean, it's - but I'm intrigued by the marriage of journalism
and theater. And, in fact, I first got interested in it one time when I
went to see "Fires in the Mirror," the Anna Deavere Smith one-woman show
that was about Crown Heights tragedy. And it was done at the Public
Theater. So I was just galvanized by that. And I've always been
interested in theater and I am a journalist, but I never thought you
could put the two together. But it was so intimate and so electrifying
for me.

And so years later, when I had finished by book about al-Qaida, "The
Looming Tower," I decided I would try my hand at it. And, I don't know.
I've really enjoyed it. And there's a way of doing journalism on stage
that, yes, it's a smaller audience than, you know, a copy of The New
Yorker. But I feel like I can actually communicate with the individuals
in the audience. And the goal of this particular play is now to solve
the problem, but to try to widen people's understanding of the other.

Most people come into the question of Israel and Palestine with very
determined views. And it's very difficult to shake those views. And
that's the object of this play, is to shake them out of the position
that they're in.

GROSS: Can you give us one example of something that you think shakes
somebody out of his position?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, if you are - for instance, if you are sympathetic to
Hamas, to me, one of the things that - I watched Hamas television. And
the children's shows that they had, you know, they have a show called
"Pioneers for Tomorrow," in which there's a young host name Saraa,
who's, I think, 12 years old. And she interviews - or she had a co-host.
And the original co-host was a mouse name Farfur who is beaten to death
by an Israeli interrogator on the television show. And then he's
succeeded by a bumblebee, who dies because he can't get across the
Egyptian border for medical treatment. And then he's succeeded by a
rabbit, and the rabbit is bombed by an Israeli. It's just - your jaw
drops when you watch what kids are being shown on this television.

And then I think about the other side. The - you know, there was a
doctor name Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who was a gynecologist in Gaza, who
actually trained and practiced in Israel. And during the war, he would
give, on Israeli television, he would give accounts in fluent Hebrew
about what was happening inside the Gaza hospitals. And on the day
before the war ended, two rockets went through his apartment in Gaza
City, killing three of his daughters and injuring a number of other

And there's a videotape of the Israeli news anchor receiving a call from
this doctor begging for help to let the ambulances through, because the
Israeli authorities weren't allowing the ambulances to take the wounded
to the hospital. And this anchorman personally called up Israeli
authorities and demanded that, in this instance, that they treat the
girls and the girls were brought into Israel. But the heart-wrenching
nature of this man's suffering is so striking. So you can't watch those
things, either one of them, without thinking this tragedy has gone on
too long.

GROSS: How do you address Israel within your show?

Mr. WRIGHT: I talk about the cost that Israel has paid in terms of
suffering and humanitarian distress because of Hamas, which is now
actually in control of Gaza. Just imagine if you're an Israeli and you
were under siege by missile attacks, which - by, essentially, an
insurgency - which then proceeds to take over the territory in a free -
probably the freest election that's ever been held in the Arab world.
It's very galling.

I had dinner one night in Jerusalem with Ari Shavit, who's a columnist
for the liberal Israeli daily Haaretz. And he reminded me that in March
2002, the restaurant that we were in was called Cafe Moment. And back in
2002, the Hamas suicide brigades were right in the middle of their
campaign. Hundreds of Israelis died during that period of time in bus
bombings, shopping centers. More than 80 died that March in 2002 alone.
And he was living nearby.

He recalled, in the middle to the night, hearing the bomb go off, and he
ran down to Cafe Moment, which was a hangout for liberal intellectuals
and artists. And he said, you know, that it was eerie, you know, this
kind of, you know, quiet. Outside there were, you know, dismembered
bodies. People had been blown clear across the street, 11 people were
killed. But inside, there was this eerie silence and he walked inside.
And there was, he said, this beautiful dead girl lying in the doorway.
And at the bar, there were three men sitting on their stools. It was, he
said, literally as if they were still drinking their beers but they were
all dead. This was just one of many bombing that very month in Israel.

GROSS: Do you think that the easing of the Israeli blockade will be an
opportunity to resume peace talks?

Mr. WRIGHT: Well, there have been many opportunities for peace in this
region and all of them have been missed. So, if the track record were to
continue as per history, it would make little difference. I think
there's always an opportunity for peace. And the talk that says that
there is not is the enemy of peace.

It's possible to make peace in this region. There are many creative
ideas that have been thrown about, about how that could be accomplished,
any one of which is better than the status quo for all parties.

GROSS: You know, obviously one of the things that has made the conflict
between Israel and Gaza so unsolvable is that Gaza is ruled by Hamas and
one of Hamas' goals is to eliminate the state of Israel. And so, Israel
clearly felt threatened by a Hamas-run government. At the same time,
Hamas accuses Israel of keeping everybody in Gaza a prisoner in the

Mr. WRIGHT: And both things are true. You know, that's part of the
stalemate here is that the rhetoric has gotten so out of scale and no
one's willing to make any concessions. For instance, right now, here we
have a, I think, a very ripe moment for change in the relationship
between Israel and Gaza, in particular.

Suddenly, the Israelis are announcing that they're easing the blockade.
Well, it would be a good time for Hamas to respond. And a great way to
do that would be to release Gilad Shalit unconditionally. It would, I
think, make a huge impression on the world community. And I think it
would provide face-saving for the Israeli authorities, and also a
powerful incentive to respond in kind. That would be the most ideal
outcome of this whole flotilla episode.

GROSS: Lawrence Wright, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. WRIGHT: It's always a pleasure, Terry. Thank you.

GROSS: Lawrence Wright is a staff writer for The New Yorker. You can
find a link to his New Yorker article about life in Gaza on our website,, where you'll also find links to NPR's continuing
coverage of the Middle East.

Wright is also the author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning book "The
Looming Tower: Al-Qaida and the Road to 9/11." A filmed version of his
one-man show, "My Trip to Al-Qaida," will be shown on HBO September 7th
and 11th.

Coming up, jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews a new album by Jason
Moran's trio, The Bandwagon. This is FRESH AIR.
Fresh Air
12:00-13:00 PM
Jason Moran: 'Ten' Years Later

(Soundbite of music)


On his second album, 10 years ago, pianist Jason Moran teamed up with
bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits. That trio later became
known as The Bandwagon. They're still playing together on Moran's new
album called "Ten."

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead has a review.

(Soundbite of song from album, "Ten")

KEVIN WHITEHEAD: Jason Moran's new album "Ten" is like a stack of
progress reports on his personal growth as pianist and as a composer, on
the development of a trio with stable personnel for a decade, and on how
jazz itself has progressed in the last 10 years. It includes the latest
installment in his continuing series of Gangsterism pieces. "Gangsterism
Over Ten Years" is informed by rap and hip-hop's speech rhythms, narrow
melodic range and love of a catchy instrumental hook. But it also shows
how hip-hop influences have been folded into jazz's ongoing dialogue
with rock and soul beats.

Tarus Mateen on big-bodied bass guitar and Nasheet Waits on drums bring
on the funk, even if they're low in the mix.

(Soundbite of song, "Gangsterism Over Ten Years")

WHITEHEAD: As a retrospective of the last decade, the album "Ten" also
collects music Jason Moran has written for film and dance projects.
"Feedback Part 2," composed for the Monterey Jazz Festival, salutes the
1967 Monterey Pop fest that helped make Jimi Hendrix a star. A looped
sample of Hendrix guitar feedback floats over the trio as seemingly
unrelated layers are superimposed.

(Soundbite of song, "Feedback Part 2")

WHITEHEAD: Jason Moran also plays pieces by some pianists who've
influenced him, to remind us what he owes them. He draws on Andrew Hill
Thelonious Monk's compositional logic. Moran's take on Monk's
"Crepuscule With Nellie" is jazz cubism. He fragments and reorders part
of the melody to make us hear it from a new angle.

(Soundbite of song, "Crepuscule With Nellie")

WHITEHEAD: As an interpreter, Jason Moran thinks big. His new CD has two
distinct versions of composer Conlon Nancarrow's "Study No. 6," one of
his typically thorny pieces for player piano. Smoothing out its rhythms,
Moran brings out the lyricism in the written line. On one take, Mateen
and Waits lay down a thundering post-Captain Beefheart beat.

(Soundbite of song, "Study No. 6")

WHITEHEAD: On his album "Ten," Jason Moran also updates 1920s stride
piano, and turns vaudeville star Bert Williams' understated "Nobody"
from 1906 into a two-fisted swinger. Moran likes splashy gestures, but
he can be subtle, too, bringing out the blues in Leonard Bernstein's
"Big Stuff."

Jason Moran has come far in 10 years, as a pianist and leader, but he
hasn't traveled alone. His trio The Bandwagon confirmed the value of
working groups. Sometimes, musicians make the most progress by sticking
together. They let the music develop one decade at a time.

(Soundbite of song from album, "Ten")

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is jazz columnist for He reviewed
"Ten," the new album by Jason Moran's trio The Bandwagon on the Blue
Note label. You can hear the album in its entirety on the website I'm Terry Gross.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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