Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
January 6, 2009

On The Hilltop

Beit Hanoun.jpg

Avi Pilchick took a long swig of Pepsi and propped a foot on the plastic patio chair he’d carried up the hillside to watch the fighting. “They are doing good,” Pilchick, 20, said of Israeli forces battling Palestinian militants in Gaza, “but they can do more.”

Sderot residents — some of them carrying binoculars — have gathered on the hilltop since the offensive began for a glimpse of the fighting, but little was clear Monday morning besides the pop of outgoing Israeli shells and the occasional helicopter gunship overhead. Pilchick was the only spectator who brought chairs and snacks including bread, cheese and a can of olives.

From: Israelis, sipping Pepsi, watch bombardment of Gaza town.” (McClatchy)

The photo above was published today by the Angry Arab blog. It was coupled with a link to a McClatchy story at the Kansas City star describing Israeli residents in Sderot, particularly youth, attempting to see the fighting in Gaza. If you click here, you can see the McClatchy report, published yesterday, with the photo that accompanied the actual story and corresponds with the quotes above.

I’ve got a couple of questions.

First, is it heavy-handed at all for Reuters to have run the photo above (out of how many others), especially with the girl in the background laughing? To what extent, for example, does it make these Israeli children out to be bloodthirsty monsters (while living in a town that, although experiencing nothing close to what Gaza resident are, is and has been the prime target of Hamas mortars)?

Second, I’m wondering how timing and context plays a role in how one perceives this photo, given the fact it was actually taken five days ago, on January 1st, the fifth day of the Israeli incursion, before civilian casualties in Gaza began to escalate. Certainly, one thinks of this picture quite differently, whether in the context of the McClatchy story — about one particular kid who makes border-watching a spectator sport — as opposed to its placement on the Angry Arab below a post showing the heads of Palestinian children which were severed from their bodies as the result of today’s controversial air strike on the U.N. school facility.

(Update 1/7. Minor re-write of last line to clarify cause-and-effect.)

Update 1/11/09 — The photo of the girl in the rubble referred to above does not show that her head as having been severed from her body. Instead, the photo, taken on January 6, 2009 by AFP/Getty photographer Mohammed Abed, shows the head of a girl who had been buried in a destroyed house following an Israeli air strike on a three-storey house belonging to a Hamas member in the Gaza City neighborhood of Zeitun.)

(image: Nikola Solic/Reuters. caption: 5 days ago: Israelis look out towards the northern Gaza Strip from a hill near the southern town of Sderot during an air strike January 1, 2009. Israel killed a senior Hamas leader in an air attack on his home on Thursday, striking its first deadly blow against the top ranks of the Islamist group in a Gaza offensive that has claimed more than 400 Palestinian lives.)

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