July 16, 2014

The Death of Four Gazan Cousins, Children of Fishermen

Children in Gaza have been dying by the day, sometimes the hour, since the latest Israel-Hamas missile war broke out. What made yesterday’s event unique however, and perhaps an emotional tipping point, is that it happened just outside the Deira Hotel at the shore in Gaza City, in proximity to comfort and, concomitantly, the immediate presence of international journalists and photojournalists. (The NYT documents the event, and the background of the children and the family here.)

It would be callous to try and say what image of this atrocity was the most trenchant. Yet, there were these remote, bird’s eye view visuals from Media24 which captured the four cousins, the children of Palestinian fisherman, in stop-time. These still frames show the boys from afar, the way children roam in clusters just like birds. But there is nothing innocent about it. In the first frame, they are fleeing the first Israeli missile. Not so, the second.

There was also this image taken by NYT photographer, Tyler Hicks, who only recently earned a Pulitzer Prize for his photos of a bloody massacre inside a Nairobi mall. Posted on the paper’s site within hours, the photo is graphic but not gratuitous, showing the boy who died first splayed on the sand, a young man just beyond carrying one of the cousins. If the litter on the beach and the power of the sea make the situation feel more aching and desolate, the aggressive wind, one that challenges a beach tent and has ripped the fabric from a meager cabana, accentuates the cruelty.

It was the photo above, however, shot by the journalist Jonathan Miller of the English Channel4 News on his phone, I assume, which touched me most. In the harsh light, the rich red walls framing white arched doorways and a wooden entry desk just about vibrate. All that intensity makes the rest more unspeakable as we view the broken body of another cousin, futilely hanging on to life, as he’s carried like a sack. Most haunting though is his face, echoing the background, obscured by white circles of gauze except for the barely visible part that is equally red.

The photo, though, also breeches the boundary between subject and media. It shares the wrenching experience alien to most of us but familiar to conflict journalists who, in the face of immediate crisis and carnage, have had to choose between their professional calling and their humanitarian instincts. In this case, as Miller and The Times report, these journalists turned first responders.

(photo: Jonathan Miller – @millerC4/Twitter. caption: Journalists carry wounded children out of al-Deira hotel)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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