It is almost impossible to conceive of covering a conflict when not just you but your families are in the line of fire. It gives new meaning to the bland term home front.
Our heroic team in Gaza and Israel led by Bureau Chief Stephen Farrell were in just that situation. As Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli air strikes sent millions of people running for cover, our Palestinian and Israeli text and visual teams worked relentlessly to chronicle the devastating impact and document the harrowing toll on civilians in one of the fiercest outbreak of violence in years. Our reporters, photographers and TV crews provided the world with some of the most poignant images of the conflict day after day, gaining Reuters not only new subscribers but new audiences.
The live feed from the Tel Aviv skyline was the most watched video on Reuters YouTube account in the last week because its location allows viewers to feel like eyewitnesses. From video teams led by Lee Marzel in Jerusalem and Mohammed Shana in Gaza, it is not packaged but rather raw video – so a window into the visual rawness of the conflict.
The story of Suzy, the six-year-old girl, who survived an air strike which destroyed her home and killed her mother, brothers and sisters, was trending for a major Middle East client on Facebook and Instagram, had well over 1 million views on social media and was published by many major online newspapers and online platforms. A powerful Wider Image photo essay and video showed the story of her being rescued from under the rubble and taken to the hospital.
“We went to the hospital and we witnessed the arrival of the bodies of Suzy’s mother and her four children,”said Nidal al-Mughrabi, Reuters senior correspondent in Gaza. “Then we went looking for Suzy, the surviving daughter. We found her in the X-ray department where she was lying on a bed. She was in shock, afraid and looking for a familiar face. I wanted to console her, so I told her: ‘Suzy, you’re fine’. But I myself wasn’t fine – I left the room, found a corner away from other people, and I cried. “
Mughrabi, who has covered the impact of several rounds of conflict in Gaza, said the air strikes have been some of the most intense of any he has seen.
“The Israeli strikes have also been focused on the Rimal area where I live,” Mughrabi says. “Myself, my wife, my daughter and son have spent three or four nights in the last week with no sleep because the air strikes were very loud, very close and very powerful. It caused panic, especially for my daughter. She is 24, and she could hardly breathe. I was typing updates while helping her to breathe in and out.
In Israel, into which the Islamist group Hamas that controls Gaza fired thousands of rockets, Amir Cohen, our photographer who lives in Ashkelon, just north of Gaza, said he ran to the safe room seven times one night, another night five times in 15 minutes. “My house was hit by a rocket five days ago. My balcony is broken, the aluminum is twisted like spaghetti after a rocket exploded in the parking lot of the building,” he said.
“I’m counting the interceptions above my head, I lost count after a few hundred. My camera is rigged to run with a remote. Every exposure is long, and it keeps running while I am in the safe room. That’s the secret to the vivid pictures you see. But it is very scary, when you hear the explosions you can tell the difference in the sound between a rocket hitting something and an interceptor missile taking out a rocket in the sky.”
Further north, Israel’s main cities have also been in rocket range. Jerusalem editor-in-charge Jeffrey Hellerwas just finishing a story when sirens sounded near his home.
“Working from my home office, and especially in the dead of night, I can hear many of the explosions from Palestinian rocket attacks and Israeli Iron Dome missile interceptions from many miles away.”
“My wife and I don’t live far from Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport, and the booms are particularly loud and frequent when it’s been targeted. And yes, there’s an app for that – an Israeli rocket alert service on my Apple Watch that taps my wrist with every new alert of an attack anywhere in Israel. My wife and I have made a slow dash to the laundry room – actually the reinforced “safe room” many Israeli homes have – twice since the hostilities began. We have 90 seconds to do so before any potential impact. The first siren caught me as I was wrapping up yet another update of our main story. Counting down from 90, I did, pushed the button transmitting it to our global editing desk, and headed to the laundry room, wrangling the dogs with us and then pulling the heavy steel door shut and locking it.
Another feature of this conflict has been the waves of violence inside Israel itself, as correspondent Rami Ayyub reported from the cities of Lod, Jaffa and Acre, where residents told him they were frightened of leaving home for fear of being identified and targeted either for their Arab or Jewish identity.
“Tension between Israel’s Jewish majority and Arab minority – many of whom identify as Palestinian – has always simmered beneath the surface. But to see it boil over, with communal mob attacks, is quite shocking, and has added a new element of fear and insecurity within the Arab Israeli community of which my wife and most of our friends are part,” Ayyub said.
Ahmed Jadallah, who hasn’t seen his parents for 3 years, decided to spend the Muslim Eid al-Fitr with them in Gaza. Instead of a holiday, he was pulled into covering a conflict close to home. “I witnessed one horrible night with dozens of air strikes raining down bombs all over the city My main concern was to move my elderly parents to a safe room in the house.”
Not able to sleep at night from the thundering sound of the explosions, the team set off in the morning to visit the hospitals and recount the stories of a people suffering and enduring.
“The journey from my home to the office would normally take 10 minutes but it seems now to be one of the most stressful and longest journeys to work.”
Pix and video teams were 28 minutes ahead when the fighting started in Gaza and they continued to deliver fast and high quality coverage.
Suhaib Salem shot the first short video from his mobile when fighting broke out after Hamas militants fired rockets into Israel. Since the start of Gaza fighting pix team provided 40 videos that were sent very fast, as everyone was prepared for such a story.
Reuters was the only news agency covering the fighting in Gaza to use a drone to shows the aftermath videos and photos, thanks to Mohammed Salem.
And the pictures team is covering all elements of the story, including the on human stories that Reuters clients like and use. Among them, photographer Raneen Sawafta has produced powerful pix and videos of clashes, funerals and human interest images.
To follow Reuters coverage of the Israel-Gaza conflict, click here.