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from Photographers' Blog:

Escaping to the Gaza shore

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Gaza City

By Mohammed Salem

Growing up in Gaza City, I used to go to the sea with my family in the summer time, escaping the heat of Sheikh Rudwan neighborhood where we lived.

The sea has always been our refuge from the difficult day-to-day life in the Gaza Strip. Like many youths in Gaza, home to 1.8 million people, I rarely left my town before I joined Reuters. A visit to the beach, a swim in the sea or a picnic with my friends was the best form of enjoyment we could have.

GALLERY: THE GAZA SHORE

After I became a photographer I discovered many new faces to life next to the sea. I took notice of those whose lives were dependent on fishing and the limitations imposed by Israel that they needed to cope with. I have joined fishermen on their trips to the sea, and spent many hours with them. I saw their dismay when they lost a catch, and their disappointment when they faced an empty net after a long journey. I was also witness to their joy when they made good catches on lucky days. I recall one time I saw the most sincere smiles I have ever seen on the faces of some fishermen returning from a successful expedition.

I also recall some painful memories from the sea. Before Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005 large areas along the beach were off limits because of the Jewish settlements. Several times I covered confrontations between the Palestinian residents of these areas and Israeli forces.

from Photographers' Blog:

Guest at a teen wedding

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Beit Lahiya, near the border between Israeli and northern Gaza Strip

By Mohammed Salem

I got a phone call from a friend asking if I wanted to photograph a wedding in Gaza. I told him I wasn't interested but when he told me the groom was 15 years old and the bride was one year younger than him, I rushed to the location immediately.

After arriving I saw people celebrating in the street not far from the border between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip. Among them was a young Palestinian boy being carried on the shoulders of relatives and friends. I couldn't believe that the boy was the groom until I asked him and he replied with a smile, “yes I am”.

from The Great Debate:

Seeking ‘good-enough-governance’ — not democracy

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Only rarely have American leaders been able to reconcile the nation’s democratic values, material interest and national security.

Despite these tensions, promoting democracy has always been a lodestone for American foreign policy. Sometimes its attraction has been weak, very weak, overshadowed by more immediate national security concerns. During the Cold, War, for example, the United States backed many autocratic leaders in exchange for their support against the Soviet Union -- or at least for pretending to be democrats. Sometimes, very rarely, as in the case of Germany and Japan after World War Two or Eastern Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union, all good things -- freedom, security, economic prosperity -- have gone together. But these moments are exceptional.

from Photographers' Blog:

An underground photography mission

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Gaza-Egypt border in the southern Gaza Strip

By Mohammed Salem

It was not easy to get in to the tunnels’ area on the Gaza-Egypt border. I had to make an enormous effort to obtain a permit from the Hamas-run interior ministry because there is a ban on photography in this area for apparent security reasons. Once I had the permit, I headed straight to the area where I was stopped at several police checkpoints before finally getting to one of the smuggling tunnels. It took me a few minutes to take in the area and see the real situation with my own eyes, not as it is described by others. Hundreds of tunnel entrances were covered by tents in an attempt to hide the location and Egyptian army tanks were close by, guarding the border.

One of the tunnel workers, Abu Mohammed, offered to let me see his tunnel. At the entrance, his colleagues were sleeping and having a rest after some hard work while the other shifts were working underground. Abu Mohammed decided to accompany me to help me while I was photographing inside the tunnel. I was surprised and a bit frightened to see a 20 meter-deep hole, and wasn't so happy about going down into the dark. Abu Mohammed encouraged me, saying that you descend on a rope operated by an electric generator, assuring me that the rope was strong enough to carry heavy construction materials. I tied my cameras around my body and the adventure began.

from Photographers' Blog:

On holiday in Gaza’s summer camps

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Gaza City

By Mohammed Salem

Since the summer vacations started, every morning as I go to the office I see lots of children on the way to their summer camps, travelling either on foot or by bus. Based on my previous visits to these different camps, the stark contrast between the various activities on offer occurred to me as an interesting subject for a story.

I started my exploratory tour by visiting a Hamas-run summer camp, where I spent about 20 minutes watching the youngsters and seeing what they were really interested in. My attention was caught by their tough determination and ability to perform military-style exercises under the heat of the sun.

from Full Focus:

Gaza’s summer camps

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Tens of thousands of children from the Gaza Strip spend at least part of their holidays in special summer camps, arranged around a wide array of activities. Some, organized by the United Nations, offer sports, art and dance classes. Others, laid on by Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas, include fun and games, while seeking to reinforce religious values and awareness of the conflict with Israel – a nation which Hamas refuses to recognize. Other centers, including some run by Hamas and the Islamic Jihad, provide military training for youths, providing basic firearms practice, and, more controversially, war games to kidnap pretend Israeli soldiers. Photographer Mohammed Salem documented children at two of these camps. Read Mohammed's personal account here.

from David Rohde:

Mursi’s folly

After helping end the fighting in Gaza, impressing President Barack Obama and negotiating a $4.8 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund, Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi has fallen victim to what Bill Clinton calls “brass.”

Mursi’s hubristic post-Gaza power grab on Thursday was politically tone deaf, strategic folly and classic over-reach. It will deepen Egypt’s political polarization, scare off desperately needed foreign investment and squander Egypt’s rising credibility in the region and the world.

from David Rohde:

After the ceasefire

For now, the fighting has stopped in Israel and Gaza. But let’s be honest, this is the latest round in a long and bitter struggle. In the future, more bloodshed is likely.

After eight days of clashes, Hamas’ claim that it is the true leader of the Palestinian resistance has gained strength. Long-range rocket attacks on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem have made Israelis increasingly wary of a two-state solution. And the deaths of 140 Palestinians, one-third of them combatants, compared to five Israelis, one of them a soldier, will be seen across the Middle East as U.S.-abetted Israeli aggression.

from Mark Leonard:

New world, same old Israel

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Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to show that nothing has changed. Israel will defend its citizens just as it did before the Arab Spring. The language of Israel’s politicians, the brutal efficiency of its bombing campaign and the asymmetrical death count all echo Israel’s campaigns in the past. But the political dynamics surrounding this assault could not be more different.

The American president – rather than spending his time in the White House Situation Room – is flying around Asia planning his “pivot” from the Middle East. Egypt’s President Mohamed Morsi, rather than sealing the border, sent his prime minister to Gaza for a display of solidarity. And regional leaders from Qatar to Tunisia and Turkey are putting themselves in the middle of the skirmish. But rather than responding to this changed environment with a creative diplomatic strategy, Israel’s government seems to be doubling down on tried and tested techniques.

from The Great Debate:

Mideast’s dynamic opportunity for peace

The Arab world may be in turmoil, but its leaders actually need an enduring peace—now in Gaza and long-term with Israel—because regimes across the region are vulnerable as never before.

Whether they like it or not, that’s true for newly elected Islamists. And old-order autocrats need resolution to prevent protests at home from turning against them.

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