Photographers' Blog

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.

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.

The joy of these residents after Israel pulled out was unforgettable. People have flocked in masses to the beaches as if to make up for years of restrictions.

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.