There has been no shortage of images from the Gaza conflict.
We’ve seen rubble, dead Palestinian children, Israelis cowering during rocket attacks, Israeli military maneuvers and Israeli army footage of Hamas militants emerging from tunnels to attack Israeli soldiers.
What we haven’t seen are practically any images of Hamas fighters inside Gaza.
We know they’re there: Someone’s got to be launching those rockets into Israel (more than 3,200) and firing at invading Israeli troops. But so far the only images we’ve seen (or even heard about) are the Israel Defense Forces’ videos of Hamas fighters using hospitals, ambulances, mosques and schools (and tunnels) to launch attacks against Israeli targets or ferry arms around Gaza.
Why haven’t we seen journalists’ photographs of Hamas fighters inside Gaza?
We know Hamas doesn’t want the world to see images of Palestinian fighters launching rockets or using civilian havens like hospitals as bases of operation. But if we’re able to see images from both sides of practically every other war – in Syria, in Ukraine, in Iraq – why is Gaza an exception?
If journalists are being threatened and intimidated when they try to document Hamas activity in Gaza, their news outlets should be out front saying so. They’re not.
Last week, The New York Times published an account by photographer Sergey Ponomarev on what his days are like in Gaza. Here’s what Ponomarev said:
“It was a war routine. You leave early in the morning to see the houses destroyed the night before. Then you go to funerals, then to the hospital because more injured people arrive, and in the evening you go back to see more destroyed houses.
“It was the same thing every day, just switching between Rafah and Khan Younis.”
If you’re wondering whether the Times has assigned another photographer to cover the Hamas aspect of the story, it hasn’t. Looking through the 45 images in four of the Times’s recent slideshows on the conflict, there’s not a single one of a Hamas fighter.
Why not? After all, Hamas attacks against Israel are crucial to understanding what’s underpinning this conflict.
When I posed this question to the Times, here’s what Eileen Murphy, the newspaper’s vice president for corporate communications, told me:
“Our photo editor went through all of our pictures recently and out of many hundreds, she found 2 very distant poor quality images that were captioned Hamas fighters by our photographer on the ground. It is very difficult to identify Hamas because they don’t have uniforms or any visible insignia; our photographer hasn’t even seen anyone carrying a gun.
“I would add that we would not withhold photos of Hamas militants. We eagerly pursue photographs from both sides of the conflict, but we are limited by what our photographers have access to.”
Now, I’m no war reporter. It’s a risk I’m not willing to take, and I commend those who do. So I’m hesitant to question the work of reporters in Gaza right now.
But here’s what I don’t get: With the hundreds of journalists there, including numerous photojournalists with experience covering bloody conflicts in Syria, Ukraine, Iraq, and Afghanistan, how is it that they aren’t able to get any images of Palestinians fighting the Israelis?
We know these images exist – unless you believe the IDF is fabricating its footage of Palestinian fighters using ambulances to transport rockets, firing from hospitals and mosques, and launching rockets at Israel.
It’s certainly important to show the human and structural devastation in Gaza. But with more than 3,200 rockets fired at Israel thus far from Gaza, and plenty of other fighting there, you’d think media outlets would be able to document some of it. But they haven’t. (Israeli news outlets are barred from Gaza, so they get a pass.)
About the Author: Uriel Heilman is managing editor of JTA. An award-winning journalist, he has worked in a variety of positions for publications in the United States and in Israel, including as New York bureau chief of the Jerusalem Post.
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