A postcard from Jerusalem

July 3, 2007

From Oleg Popov, Reuters Chief Photographer Israel and Palestinian Territories.

Hawara…..this is the name of the biggest army check-point on the West Bank, seen as a symbol of the occupation, dividing the southern and northern territories and controlling the movement of Palestinians from Nablus and Jenin. After several cases of stolen cars with Israeli number plates (Israeli are yellow, Palestinian green) appearing in and around Nablus, we received a fax from the Israeli army commander in northern West Bank, banning the entry of cars with yellow number plates into Nablus.

Hawara

The same day the Israeli army entered Balata refugee camp, on the outskirts of Nablus and as I drove towards Hawara in my Israeli registered Mitsubishi I contemplated the prospect of lugging 50 kilos of camera equipment through the half kilometre-long check-point. I decided to try the direct approach with the broadest possible smile on my face I drove up to the young Israeli soldier at the barrier and produced my press card. Did you get the fax banning Israeli cars from entering Nablus?” he asked. This car is not Israeli, it is JapaneseI joked. “Really? OK, go ahead, he said and waved me through. Laughing like crazy, I drove slowly into Nablus.

If you are keen to work 24/7, without days off for months, risking your life on daily basis but working with some of the best and most highly motivated photographers on the planet to cover a huge variety of news and feature stories, then the Jerusalem office is the right place to be. It has a unique mix of Israeli, Palestinian and foreign photographers, working together as a unified Reuters team. Some of our Palestinian photographers are based in the West Bank, others are in the Gaza Strip. Two of our team are Palestinians with Israeli IDs which enable them to work in Israel as well as the Palestinian territories.

After nearly three years here I am still surprised by the speed at which a story develops. Within a few hours a minor incident can develop into a local war. Coverage and safety decisions need to be made in seconds. A wrong call on my part can send photographers in the wrong direction and cost us key pictures or worse.

For me the Gaza Strip is a special place. Most of the stories in the region begin and end there. With the risk of kidnapping over the past few months Gaza has not been a foreigner-friendly place but since Hamas forcibly took control they have welcomed foreign journalists and guaranteed their safety. Several days ago I went to Gaza to see the guys and was shocked by the discipline of the drivers in its normally chaotic streets. When I commented on it I was given the simple explanation, “if someone drives through a red light, the Hamas traffic policeman shoots out his tyres”.

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