A consistent problem in the visual coverage of the Gaza story, and the Palestinian crisis overall, involves the inability to differentiate a Palestinian public from, say, Hamas. (The same problem exists, by the way, in the visual coverage and characterization of Israelis. As fundamentalist settlers and right-wing extremists exploit the attention, they, too, tend to become more representative of the public at large.)
To illustrate, take these two shots I was looking at the day before the Gaza wall was breached.
I would say this first shot is more representative of the Palestinians of Gaza. It shows men and boys lining up at a food truck food at the height of the Israeli blockade. Anonymous and candid, I doubt most of these people — except, maybe, the kid in the middle seeming to look at the camera — knew they were even being photographed.
Contrast that with the second shot. The caption, which appeared in a WAPO slideshow, read as follows:
Palestinians protest in front of the Rafah crossing, calling on Egypt to open its border with the Gaza Strip.
Palestinians? That is not the Palestinian flag, it is the Hamas flag. Thus, the proper designation for the people here might better be described as “Hamas followers” or “Hamas sympathizers.”
Reading interviews and blogs from Gaza, the message, by and large, from the public there, is that they hate Israel for imposing extreme physical and emotional suffering; they hate Hamas for provoking Israel and putting them in the middle; and they resent Fatah for its lethal power struggle with Hamas.
Nor is there anything innocent about this second photo. Capitalizing on the intense media attention on the Gaza blockade, this has all the markings of savvy media warriors working the airwaves: The adults are out of sight so that children — girls, in particular — form the face of the movement. The holy book is optimally positioned for moral impetus. And then, you have the effect of the barbed wire atop the wall separating Gaza and Egypt — the wall that Hamas had already wired to explode.
Of course, the wall is what it is. Still, the fact that Gaza is an encampment doesn’t account completely for the virulence of this scene. Remove the flags and you’re left with a stabbing and highly telegenic resonance with the past. Suffice to say, Hamas knows the Jews have their own history with barbed wire.
(image 1: Ibraheem Abu – Reuters. image 2: Ibraheem Abu Mustafa – Reuters. January 21, 2007. Gaza Strip. via washingtonpost.com)