Shalit holding a Gaza newspaper in a video shown on Israeli TV last month.(Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

This week’s New Yorker features an extremely grim story about the deterioration of Gaza by Lawrence Wright, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning (and extremely grim) study of al-Qaida, The Looming Tower. In Wright’s telling, the seven-mile-wide strip of land has, thanks to the Israeli blockade that’s been in place since 2007 and Hamas’s increasing draconianism, become “a floating island, a dystopian Atlantis, drifting farther away from contact with any other society” including the relatively well-integrated West Bank. And that was even before the war last winter that destroyed much of the area’s remaining infrastructure. Hovering over it all is the image of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in 2007 who has become a major bargaining chip for Hamas and a kind of Helen of Troy figure for Israel. Indeed, Wright argues, Israel may have invaded Gaza partly in an attempt to steal him back. “Shalit is presumed to be alive, and his plight has driven Israel slightly mad,” Wright writes, noting reports that during Operation Cast Lead, the IDF’s fear of producing another Shalit was so intense that some commanders told soldiers to kill themselves if they were captured by Hamas. “Though it may seem perverse,” Wright adds, Gazans too feel a sense of identification with the captured soldier, whose pale face adorns menacing Hamas billboards: they “see themselves as like Shalit: confined, mistreated, and despairing.”

Captives [NYer]