Monday, July 03, 2006

Counting .. One Two Three Four

Sunday 2nd July 2006

Gaza City

Have you ever seen those wacky people on TV who seen to spend their lives chasing Tornadoes and other freaks of weather, then totally lose the plot when one actually hits them or just misses. Well yesterday it felt like we spent the afternoon chasing tornadoes except out in Northern Gaza, it trying to predict where the Israeli shells are going to land and at a safe distance.

The aspect of safe distance I will discuss later or maybe even in another entry where I can be more thoughtful and use bigger words to describe something that when out watching them, the term most often used could be “F… that one is closer”

It sounds almost a surreal life, but honestly we simply drive out to the front lines open the armored car doors and sit there and listen for a few minutes. Then you hear the far off sound of Artillery being launched and you start to count. Five seconds puts the shells landing in the area we call the graveyard, Seven to eight seconds means that the shells are to the East of Beit Hanoun in the Qassam orchards zone and ten seconds means that the Beit Labia is the target.

It reminded me of the character from Sesame Street the vampire “Count” who used to simply count everything out loud. We stop just outside Beit Hanoun, wait for the artillery to start and simply count. This then gave us the indication of where would likely be the best place to go live from.

We decided on East Beit Hanoun, and headed up the road at the end of town and on the ridge you come across the Palestinian National Security forces, which have less weapons than the Hamas Militants down the street in the town.

The commander here told us that the shelling had been going around in circles all afternoon, sometimes the graveyard area to the south, then Beit Leila to the north before coming back to the Qassam Orchards where his outpost overlooked, it was only a matter of time before the shells would land nearby again, he indicated 400 – 500 m away.

Whilst setting up for the live shot back to New York we heard the barrage move from the graveyard to Beit Leila and in good time we hoped that the shells would land in the orchards whilst we were live, it does make for dramatic television and we had factored in a good safety margin, so we all felt good and confident. You still put on a flak jacket just in case, lets face it what use is the flak jacket sitting in the back of the car, if something does happen.

Naturally during this live shot, the couple of artillery shells fired went everywhere but into the orchards. It happens and the beauty of 24/7 News is that they want you again at the top of the next hour.

Between Jonathan Hunt (Correspondent) Clarissa Ward (Producer) and Neal (Fixer/local Producer) we decided that for the next shot lets try over in Beit Leila village, away from the smell of the sewerage ponds though that surround the town.

The actual time to set the system up in the car is literally five minutes; an incredible aspect of our technology today is this ability to go live so fast from anywhere. The system actually allows us to transmit live whilst driving along. This is the same system that I used in the Iraq War whilst embedded.

Now the thing is to try and find a place, with the following criteria – you can get a signal out, very easy as long as you are not driving under power lines. 2 You can see something in the background that relevant to what Jonathan is going to talk about, out here easy again everywhere is a target and 3 try to minimize the impact of boys who have nothing better to do than crowd around you and make life a living hell. BUT above all and this is the most important factor is that everyone in team agrees that it is safe in the relevant terms of anywhere being safe in Gaza.

We found a spot on the road just outside the town. Everyone including the Fox News Radio Correspondent Scott Heidler who had joined us to try and capture some natural sound for the afternoon, felt good about where we stopped - no power lines, nice sand backdrop with Israeli military checkpoint in the background, and boys, well three out of four is a good score in Gaza.

We were set up and live back to New York, and five minutes out from the shot when all of a sudden there was there was the feint boom of artillery being fired in the distance, then came the whistle in the air, it is so fast a sound that you cannot track the direction, but you sense it is near, very near and lo and behold this fell well into the category of – expletive word that is expletive close, less than three hundred meters away the ground shook and the dust mushroomed into the air, then another and another fell. It is always hard to keep count honestly as to how many fell, but around five dropped near us in less than two minutes.

But as is television news, by the time New York crossed to us with breaking news urgent banners the salvo had died down and moved more towards targeting the Al Aqsa Militants training camp on the next ridge.

We did the cross with the sound of firing and the booms of landing shells on the ridge, and the anchor finished the segment with a “Keep Safe” message.

Our day had finished as Jerusalem was taking over coverage of the story, we packed up the kit and I took off my flak jacket to stow in the back, when I heard another boom of a shell being fired, - one, two, three, four …..

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