Photographers' Blog

Beneath the rubble

Rafah, Gaza

By Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

I was at a house with my colleagues monitoring the situation in Rafah, when I heard two huge explosions. The shout went up: “A hit by Israeli F16!”

Police sources determined the location of the incident and reported that the airstrike had targeted a house belonging to the al-Ghol family. I rushed to the scene immediately.

Once I realised that the house had an asbestos roof, I knew there would be serious casualties. At the scene I saw ambulances arriving and leaving as people crowded around. First they removed the body of an old man and then people started to shout: “Children under the rubble!”

I rushed to the closest position to photograph these kids. The boy in this picture was later identified as Mahmoud al-Ghol. He is 10 years old.

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Nine of Mahmoud’s relatives, including his uncle’s family, were killed in the strike and another seven were wounded. He has twin brothers who were born a few weeks ago during the war and one of them was killed, while the other was slightly injured.

15 seconds

Sderot, Israel

By Finbarr O’Reilly

“If you want to learn about a city, look at its walls.”

-Greek graffiti artist iNO

In springtime, the fields around Sderot are carpeted with red and yellow flowers swaying in the breeze. Yet the pastoral setting is at odds with drab concrete tenements rising up from the impoverished Israeli city under constant threat of attack.

Nowhere in Israel has been as heavily bombarded as Sderot. More than 8,600 rockets fired from Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, have landed in and around the city since 2001 according to the local media center. Ten people have been killed by rocket fire in Sderot since June 2005 and dozens more have been injured. Psychological stress also takes its toll.

With just over a kilometer of fields separating it from the Gaza Strip, Sderot is an obvious target for Palestinian militants whose stated aim is to destroy Israel. The most intense bombardments came during Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009, when Israel launched an attack on Gaza, beginning with a week of air strikes and shelling, followed by a land invasion. Hamas and its allies responded by firing rockets and mortars into Israel during the three-week conflict, which killed an estimated 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis.

Escaping to the Gaza shore

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.

Guest at a teen wedding

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”.

GALLERY: PALESTINIAN TEEN WEDDING

After he finished celebrating at a party held a day before the official wedding, he went to play with friends in the street where they enjoyed flavored frozen drinks.

An underground photography mission

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.

I had a very weird feeling while going down, but it was interesting. When I arrived underground, two of the tunnel’s workers shouted a warm welcome as they saw me as a guest. They were very happy to see a new face. Cautiously I began walking inside the underground passage, which runs about one kilometer (0.6 miles) to the Egyptian side. For my part, it was like a trip to another planet or a completely different world. The workers continued their work and I managed to document them while they were repairing their damaged tunnel and resting. I could hear some murmurings and sounds coming from a neighboring tunnel that was separated from us only by a wall of sand. I almost got lost and started to enter another tunnel run by other people, but the workers notified me. It was not an easy hour. It was very hot and humid, and shooting pictures was very difficult due to the weak light. Even breathing was not as easy as I thought.

On holiday in Gaza’s summer camps

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.

The scenes I watched in that camp were in complete contrast to what children are offered by the U.N. fun weeks. So for my story I planned to find two schoolchildren who were at the different camps, and document their daily activities in order to illustrate their personal lives.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Education for the blind

Blind Palestinian children attend special schools in East Jerusalem, Ramallah and Gaza.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Heaven or Hell

To be in the right place at the right moment - this is every photojournalist’s dream. To be on the scene to record the “decisive moment” with your camera.

Most photojournalists around the world consider Israel and the Palestinian Territories as "heaven" for great stories providing great pictures. Well they are wrong.

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For a long time this place has produced some of the most memorable news photos ever but at a high cost, and not just to the millions of Israelis and Palestinians who have suffered in their daily lives through the conflict of the past two decades or so. A number of photographers and camera operators lost their lives or been badly injured while trying to convey the story and a great number of others have psychological scars from being exposed to scenes of death and destruction over long periods of time. 

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