Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Flashbacks & Bad Dreams

Tuesday July 11, 2006
Gaza City

One of the things that you can experience when you leave an intense situation, like covering the conflict/war for a few days is that whilst you may be out and back where the world may seem sound and normal is that mentally you have never left.

I had three days back in Israel, doing normal things that are part of my routine, but when you know that you are coming back, you never leave mentally.

Every night I would fall asleep and have dreams that I was still in Gaza, not nightmares or waking in cold sweats like you see in Hollywood movies. But my inner ego remained in Gaza, whenever I come out of Iraq after an embed it takes me a week to actually leave to the point that I know where I am when I wake up.

Covering war is an incredibly mentally draining experience, not only do you have to deal with the day to day logistics of keeping equipment working that you have to anywhere in the world as Photographer. But you spend an incredible amount of mental energy on decision-making; every decision you take can affect you and the rest of the team. Not simple decisions as to what are we doing for lunch, but doing calculations of field of cover from tanks that see you, drones overhead monitoring your movements and just how much time do you spend outside the armored car without being dealt the Queen of Spades.

Yesterday Correspondent Jennifer Griffin and Producer Maryam Sepehri drove around just to become aware of what had happened over the three days that I was out of Gaza in the northern area around Beit Leiha. Israeli tanks had come right into the town and had trashed areas, destroyed roads and a death toll that no one will ever remember or care about.

The only major area that the Israelis are in at the moment is around the Karni Crossing in the East of Gaza. This was the first time that I had gone back to the Karni area for a few years; partly because the last time I was there we had got caught in one of the most intense gun battles I have ever been caught in the middle of.

It was one of those classic scenes of the Intifada, boys throwing stones at tanks, tank fires machine gun when they get to close, someone gets pinged, Ambulance screams up thru the smoke and another victim gets hauled away. To call it an uprising is foolish; throwing stones at tanks is and always will be a game for the boys here.

What happened that day was that from behind the stone throwing youths, members of the Palestinians Security forces decided to open fire with Ak 47s behind us towards the Israeli tanks. Now this ups the ante from stone throwing to lead coming at them and immediately the tanks opened up with a barrage of heavy machine gun fire to stop the negate this attack.

For nearly forty minutes we were trapped behind walls, on the floor of our taxi, stumbling thru courtyards and holed up in a room. Only to find out that the Palestinians were arresting us and to be taken down to Central police Station to be interrogated and have our video examined.

The only thing they were worried about was that I had filmed them firing and that it would make them look bad.

In one of those classic TV moments whilst lying on the floor of the taxi I had actually switched tapes whilst we were under fire, putting my first tape of the stone throwing back into the camera and the second tape which had all the bang bang was now tucked down the front of my pants.

They eventually let us go after watching the tape back and forth.

The next day Ben Weiderman a CNN correspondent was shot in the stomach standing next to the same lamppost I had been filming from the day before. Karni is a dangerous place when two tribes go to war.

So it was a mental flashback yesterday to see these landmarks again and to replay the sounds of what it was like on that corner four years ago.

Within ten minutes of being there yesterday, we were hearing the sounds of tanks firing heavy, drones buzzing like summer mosquitoes in your ear and every now and then machine gun fire cracked in the heat of the late afternoon.

Somehow it just sounds normal for Gaza, in much the same way as a building site noise buzzes as you walk past it. Then one solitary bullet whistled over us, when you hear the whistle and there is no other sound like it in the world, your senses come crashing back to reality and 90% of your mental energy is focused on situation awareness.

Gaza spends another day descending into hell, with no relief in sight. As we left the scene wearing our flak jackets inside the armored car, we drove down the main street out of Karni, and counted four mourning tents for dead Palestinians in this one narrow road. Around each tent were Militants and hard core Muslims, eyes burning with hatred looking towards the Israeli border, one mile away.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Mal,
Why do you keep going back? Is it for money? I hope they've paid you enough to buy a small Caribbean island by now!!! The thrill? A sense of responsiblility - "its my job and they need me...." I just can't fathom how you make yourself go back to places as dangerous and soul-destroying as Gaza seems right now. Regards, Drusy

Anonymous said...

I agree.......get the hell out of there. Continuous coverage of bomb blasts and what not on TV....it all becomes a bit boring....I don't think its worth risking your life in there...

Mal said...

Thanks for the responses and trust me at times I do also question the safety and validity of being in places of danger, but it is also important for all sides of a story to have a voice and for everyone in the world to see an unbiased picture of what is happening.
I cannot control the words or editorial decisions, BUT i can provide real life honest pictures that cannot be distorted and that is one of the reasons I do what I do
Mal