Monday, July 31, 2006

The Combat Blackberry

Qiryat Shmona

The ability to read e-mail that is received in realtime, anywhere, has made the BlackBerry devices infamously addictive, earning them the nickname Crackberry. (source Wikipedia")

This is one of those funny but tragically sad stories on the state of journalism in War. Everyone has one of this confounded things at work now even under gunfire people will stop and check their emails and get updates that have no relevance to the situation that they are in. What is the use of getting updates on the status of your frequent flyer points when you are standing next to a tank.

The other week at dinner I had had enough, I went down and joined Mike Tobin and Ibrahim Hezboun for dinner on the patio at The Beach Hotel in Gaza. I said nothing not a word but just sat there and started to surf the and write emails on my blackberry. For more than ten minutes, I said not a word just sat there with my head down engrossed, eventually they asked if anything was wrong as I was not talking.

"No" was response and I went back to my blackberry.

A minute or so later they both became agitated and asked what was wrong?

"Nothing, but guys this is what you both have done for the last meals we have together.

Every minute of a past meal had seen them on their "blackberries" and I just wanted them to experience "Blackberry Ettiquette" They are without doubt a great tool, if you think people are rude with cell phones you have seen nothing yet.

My new rule today is that anytime I am with anyone and if we are talking and they check their blackberry I will stop mid word and walk away and then blackberry them the rest of the sentance.

In the old days a "War Correspondent" used his eyes to watch what was happening, words were used to record history and dispatches from the front line could take days to reach a telegraph post. Sure that has all changed and what I do is a driving force in that, and technology means that we all need the latest information.

However the case of not going forward with the troops does not get any funnier than this. We have a correspondent in the area who arrived a few weeks back and just gave up on getting his blackberry to work, what the hell .... s/he had wireless internet everywhere, wires were printed out for her/him, cable TV was a none stop source and since s/he was doing a back shift. It must of just been too hard to get the blackberry to work.

In an operation of this scale we have lots of people moving around and the Correspondent in the rear (sans Blackberry) was bugging the boss to see some action everyday s/he would ring up and ask to come up to the front.

The day came when s/he was called up, a Correspondents big break into the war zone.

BUT... hang on .... I cannot come up ... my blackberry is not working.

So for the lack of a "COMBAT BLACKBERRY" .... s/he remained behind in the rear, listening to traffic and changing hotel rooms so that they could write war stories back home.

It is one of the funniest things I have ever heard about in this crazy business.

The Art of the Hand Job

Metula, Northern Israel , Lebanon Border
July 30 2006

What is a hand job, without a happy ending ... think about it in every perverse way.

Then when you have contemplated the simple question why would you have a hand job without a happy ending, consider the Israeli censorship laws.

At the end of the day the biggest compliment I received was that I have mastered the hand job. This I thought I had achieved aged 14 but not when you hear that your boss thinks you have mastered this simple act of being male, well a male combat cameraman.

We got slammed today by Hezbollah, after the IDF attack on Qana, Southern Lebanon. In which over 50 civilians most of them children were killed last night. Hezbollah promised a day of "Rain" and the biggest number of rockets fired into Israel since this war started was surpassed. And being on a roof top seeing two of them hit, trust me the Hezbollah achieved their aim. I was for the first time, scared really scared in this conflict.

The thing is that , we have to be live on the roof to report this and wearing a flak jacket is something that long ago lost it's fashion statement for me. Everyone we saw today was at some stage wearing a flak jacket in Metula. It was a day when you could not be normal if there was not some doubt in your mind. We even told our Producer top stay of the rooftop without a jacket on. I would not be true without admitting that I wore mine a few times for very good reason.

The day unfolded with rockets landing, real close to something that under censorship laws must wait for a later date. When we broadcast we cannot disclose the actual location of the hit in a wide shot so that Hezbollah could adjust and relaunch more missiles. Why any Hezbollah informant would be watching Fox News at one in the morning calling in artillery tangents is beyond me. But you never know.

So we have developed a technique whereby the correspondent David Lee Miller explains live on air that we are about to put our "hand" over lens and block the picture to swing around and show you close up where it landed. Now fellow cameramen we know this is plunging into a black hole and coming out on target, is like shooting a bulls eye playing darts blindfolded.

I have worked this technique whereby I cover the lens with my hand swing around, zoom in and focus in on the strike site by just spreading a couple of fingers so I know what I am looking at but no one else. I hit every site spot on every live shot. Look for the subtle fingers move.

Eli Fastman, our Bureau Chief is our Battle General for the entire operation and at dinner I heard the feedback, that Mal has mastered the hand job.

The hand job, has been mastered, but with no happy ending...... But the Boss is happy.

Tomorrow I am on Katusah Camera in Qiryat Shemona day shift, put that in a roster thru HR let alone the legal department. We have rostered a cameraman to be on the roof when a rocket hits the town.

Can hardly wait.

Hang on what about the "Happy Ending" .....

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Metula Ridge Saturday

In Hezbollahs Crosshairs

Northern Israel / Lebanon Border

Sunday July 30th 2006

I have mentioned often that we have always thought of Metula as a safer place since it actually touches the border and that Hezbollah would be unlikely to fire katusha rockets here, in case they fell short and landed on a nearby Lebanese Village.

Well at around 12:30 today that scenario changed and as we sat in the hotel lobby a rocket landed on the hill next to the village, in fact it landed about 100 m from where we had spent all day yesterday broadcasting. I have my camera set up in a live location on the hotel roof and we headed up, as we took the platform the air whistled and then exploded as a second missile struck about again 500 m away in a vegetable garden of a house.

You do shake and you do start to question the value of life when you experience and see the missile strike, in a word it scares the f... out of you, if you cannot admit that to yourself then you are seriously in need of a brain transplant.

The live shot went ok, the only thing we cannot show is the location in a wide picture so that the Hezbollah who are watching TV could if needed ring the missile team and tell then to adjust. In these situations you zoom in out of focus and gradually focus up when all references are cleared or alternatively I put my hand in front of the lens and finger glimpse thru to the close up.

We had just finished the live shot, and standing up on the roof when a third missile came in a 100m closer. If good things come in threes I can only hope that Hezbollah were happy. They were so close to a target that would of made events here so much more volatile, if they had hit just a little bit to the left or right.

What was there will remain a secret for another day to share, trust me they were real close to a major target.

My last blog mentioned my belief that maybe diplomacy could be gaining momentum, well at 1:00 am last night the IDF hit a building in Qana, Southern Lebanon and killed at least 50 civilians many of them children. And they have pledged a "rain" of terror in return, by that they mean that they will step up there rocket fire into Israel.

Flak jackets sometimes a fashion accessory, today everyone is wearing one in the streets of Metula. There are only journalists and soldiers in town.


Saturday July 29 2006
Northern Israel / Lebanon Border

What started out as a standard day in a war zone ended as a day in a war zone.

Plans are made to be broken and naturally today commenced with the usual mayhem, of Breakfast, fixers ringing up wanting to be picked up and not telling you where to pick them up from, stopping to buy food for lunch (and laughing as one member of the crew grabbed a bottle of Absolute Vodka, which at the end of the day was a wise decision) to driving along the border looking for "droppings" . A classic word used to define somewhere where we can see bombs falling.

Naturally we drive around for an hour and half, being turned back at army checkpoints and finally deciding to go back to the ridge next to our hotel we had left two hours before.

Then grabbing the camera out as we scouted a location for the day live shots and filming F16's "dropping" a Hezbollah Observation Point with bad accuracy, three passes six bombs all missing the actual structure. The trick is to try and frame up so that you see the impact flash , wide shot , medium shot, or close up ... This is a building 2 miles away and directly below it is my hotel room from where I am writing this.

You wait for the noise of the planes as they come in on a pass and drop chaff in case they are being targeted. and then you wait for the impact.

As i write this piece at nearly midnight the artillery shells are pounding out into Lebanon with suppressive firing ...

Then the tank rolls over the ridge directly above us, behind the "Beware Mines area" sign, trust me this is the best anti robbery warning I have ever seen.

Across the valley in Lebanon on the road was a small water tank, the type towed by tractors. The IDF decided that this was not a good place to leave it, as it could be a roadside bomb.

The tank firing 50 meters above your head rocked even the camera locked off on the tripod, the first shell missed. This was one of those targets that I knew was going to take a while to hit. So i raced back to the car and grabbed one of my small handicams, thinking i could film the tank firing on the small camera and have the impact on my main camera.

Grabbing the small camera, it naturally does all the things domestic cameras do, and by the time it had decided to work the Tank fired the second round and I looked into the viewfinder of my main camera trained on the target. The shell hit and it was a great shot. The funny thing is how you talk to other cameramen at scenes like this and talk about how you saw details the human eye cannot. So the NBC cameraman and I talked about the up flash and everyone else just looked at us.

Needless to say this video has all been used a lot today on the Channel, good "droppings" are great TV.

The rest of the afternoon was another rotation of top of the hours, with David Lee Miller and Maryan, who got more frustrated as with every hit they got the video wrong, or took the wrong audio for the microphone. Quick technical aside the camera mic is panned for split audio so the sound of explosions is clearer, and during most lives there is shelling.

But at the end of the day, the shot that everyone liked the most was the sunset.Which anchors like to wax lyrical about, the cliche book is wide open.

However the "droppings" were used extensively on air.

As we drove out back to the operation base, back in Qiryat Shemona after wrapping for the night. The catering we have for dinner is excellent and dinner beckoned, yes catering it is easier to feed the troops we have have. Fox News has around forty people here covering the story and it also a great relaxing social at the end of the day or as the case is a switch to the night crew doing Prime time.

We have a great team here and the spirit of dinner together bonds as closer.


The IDF has decided to go in with Ground forces, and as we left ,,,,,,, There they were. Stopped grabbed the camera was immediately stopped from filming and told to leave the area .... hang on my hotel room is here

We had not even left the kibbutz we live in, now at this point the scent of a good story in all of us, I decided that if we are already in a closed military area I am not leaving and we jammed the road as I turned back to the hotel, An IDF Officer screamed at us to turn off our phones.

I had already called the boss with the info that it was going down the ground forces were going in. Now back to the hotel in the kibbutz, surrounded by events that we could not cover due to censorship restrictions. We had a glass of vodka, it had been a wise choice now with reflection and the purchaser was complemented with his wise decision.

Then the phone rings and we are back in the mix, sort of but not sort of. On and off as events moved on and my temper frayed as my camera with the new video of troops marching into Lebanon, great mood video ... in the orange street lights . The images were very powerful and showed a new phase of the war.

Diplomatic talks might even succeed and it means that the clock for Israel to achieve greater results is winding down. A ceasefire is in the wind and the effort is now to achieve goals before they are forced to stop.

At the end of the day you end up back in your room, having done my laundry in the bathroom sink, writing and listening to the shelling on my balcony.

Tomorrow is another day

Boom to Bang

Saturday Morning . 00:20

it takes fifteen seconds from Boom to bang.

Standing on my hotel balcony, you hear the Israeli tank down the street fire it's round, the Boom sound we call it. It is a slow sound of explosion, very dull in fact after you have heard them fire thousands of rounds. As a crew we laugh at people who flinch, at the evening meal we all share in great team spirit. The artillery start firing and we all watch to see who flinches first, imagine trying to bite in to a slice of bread as a Howitzer fires.

back "live to my room in the hotel... Breaking News Outgoing rounds .....

Another round fired .... 9 , 10 , 11 , 12,
Another 12, 13 , 14 ,
And Another .......... low bang .........
And another fired ...
And another fired .......
And another ...
and another fired .... this is real time

And another ...bang
And another ... bang
And another
... one minute pause
... two minute pause

The bang is another way to describe the sound when it lands in lebanon, blowing the hell out of another field and seeing a smoke plume on the horizon. Sad to say, but it does make great TV

And another 10.11.12.. dull bang

You can fall asleep .... you stop hearing the booms and the bangs ...

Just close the door, turn on the noisy air con and go to sleep. Tomorrow wake up, walk out the door, pick up team, drive to the Grocery store (24 hour place.. . only shop open apart from Pharmacy and supermarket (closed for shabat) drive up the mountain look into Lebanon and hope it is good spot to record history.

Qiryat Shmona
Northern israel - In fact looking out my door I can see Lebanon down the street

29th July 2006

Metula in the cross hairs

After hitting and killing 50 civilians in qana southern Lebanon overnight .
Hezbollah is striking back in the last hour three katusah rockets have landed within 500 m of us . It is an incredibly frightening sound as you hear the whistle and impact near you.
Sirens for bomb shelter has just gone off again
More could be coming in

Friday, July 28, 2006

Ghost Towns

Across the valley lies the town of Hula .
It looks like any other small rural town in the Middle East. The largest buildings are Mosques which dominate the communty. Four storey blocks of flats line the main streets, the missing element is people. In the last five hours we have been here there has been no sign of human life whatsoever.
The only thing moving are the flags of Hezbollah flapping in the wind as it blasts down the valley.
The only noise I can hear are the Israeli F16's as they roar above followed by the explosion as they drop their deadly payloads on the ridge lines above the town.
Every now and then the artillery and tanks unleash a volley on the hills above.
You cannot help but wonder if anyone will ever come back to live here.
In the meantime the flags will be the only thing moving.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Frontline Pictures Lebanon War

First Crew Into Lebanon EXCLUSIVE

Conveniently I have forgotten my Passport.

Mayoun Al Ras
July 27, 2006

Being driven up the hills from Qiryat Shmona with Correspondent Mike Tobin it was past midnight and in the darkness I made a simple note that “ I had conveniently forgotten my passport”, which given what we were about to do made Mike burst out laughing with the absurdity of what I had said.

“ Do not worry “ he responded, “ I doubt that we will be asked for our passport as we enter Lebanon”

Only an hour earlier I had been relaxing and getting ready to join the rest of the Fox News team at a great little hotel for a cold beer before going to bed after a full day of shooting the action on the border and doing Anchor Camera for two and half hours from the windiest place in Northern Israel.

Mike walked up to me and commented, “ I hope you haven’t been drinking, we are going in”. I hadn’t and knew the ramifications of his simple question.

Now going in meant only one thing, we had been given permission to join the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) for nighttime “Limited Incursion Operation”. To be honest at first I was not keen at all and in fact declined when asked would I be comfortable going. No one is ever pressured and the right to say no is respected and never questioned.

The threat is not being attacked by Hezbollah soldiers, however the real and present danger is large land mines and roadside bombs these things can cripple and destroy tanks. I have seen this before in Iraq on the Syrian border, when we had driven down a road in an armored humvee being followed by a larger heavier US Marine, we past over the landmine without triggering it the heavier track hit this triple stack of landmines and exploded with the death of six Marines and multiple injuries with horrific burns.

I thought long and hard and knew that I had all the right night gear and was probably the most experienced cameraman for the job and accepted the assignment, so in the black of midnight we rolled up to a kibbutz high in the hills overlooking Lebanon. Now do not think that bureaucracy does not reach up into the mountains standing next to tanks about to invade, sorry “Limited Incursion” in a foreign country.

For the second time in one hour we filled in the papers, which meant that we could not sue the State of Israel in the event of anything happening. The US also makes you do the same, before going into Iraq and Afghanistan.

It was close to 1:30 am by the time we dropped into the belly of the beast. That is the only way to describe climbing down into a Puma tank used by the Combat Engineers, the purpose of this tank is to clear minefields and booby traps, so it does not have a turret but there are no shortages of guns and explosives on and inside the Puma.

I want you to imagine getting into an economy class seat row of three, wearing body armor and Kevlar helmets then being told to lift your legs up and sit like this in total darkness inside a metal box which is so loud that conversation is wasted. Then after five minutes having another person drop in and now four of us are crushed into a space that was barely enough for three. And that is what it feels like crushed to the point you lose feeling in your limbs in this hot and airless box.

I laugh when I hear other people in the media describe their “Embed” experiences, compared to the reality of frontline work.

For nearly two hours all you are aware of is the sound of the tank tracks, the roar of the engine and the smell of fuel. After taking a few shots with my camera and infrared light system, I closed my eyes and tried to block out the noise and the fears inside me. We were trapped inside and the only way out is to complete the mission, when you cross the line, there is always the tightening inside your guts of when you will come back, if things go wrong, well I never dwell on that.

It was the smell that roused me; the noise and grinding stopped and as the engine idled this smell descended thru the hatches as tight as they were. It was the smell of death, bodies rotting and putrefying, it is a smell that after a while you can identify every pore in your skin tries to close to avoid contact with the smell. And it is better to keep breathing thru your nose so that the smell does not contact your taste buds in your mouth. Out there close, real close by were dead bodies, dead Hezbollah fighters and one body cannot create that volume of odor.

We were obviously now in the town, where the mission objective was to recover the body of a dead Israeli soldier who had been killed earlier in the day in special operations. The hatch was opened and the stars filled the sky and across the valley were the lights of Israel. Everything here was black and using night vision glasses I could look around at what remained of a Lebanese village. Every building had some damage and tanks had chewed the area up.

You do not get long to take your time and create beauty in these areas, we had less than fifteen minutes and the tanks were going and you do not want to miss the last bus out. Filming in the black is hard to say the least and I use a small domestic handicam, just like the ones people have at home but with an extra two Infrared lights that give me sixteen more beams. You cannot capture the destruction, so with a calculated pace I worked the soldiers looking for angles and faces, the eyes look like demonic in this light. I watched the body of the dead soldier being strapped to the lead tank.

It was almost Viking “esk” in the way the body was carried and strapped down with honor, we are not permitted to film dead soldiers and risk censor issues, but my eyes were fixed on the procession and my mind was recording the moment for my own gallery of the horrors and truths of war, that replay and run thru my mind in the early morning hours when alone.

Mike came out from a briefing with the officer in charge of operations and we teamed up to shot an “As Live” from the scene. The only trouble being that my eye hard been burnt with the bright light from the viewfinder and I could not see where to plug in the microphone, the frustration of going this far and having this happen is so frustrating. So Mike had to shout into the camera and hopefully this would be OK. Mike is great in the situations and nailed a minute and half hit first time. The Tank Commander was yelling that we had to go and go now. Luckily he had a small dim light and I found with luck the correct plug in for the microphone and we had one and only one chance to nail it as this guy was going to move his tank, but since we were standing there Mike yelled lets go and I just prayed that it would be a good one take, and Mike once again hit the mark.

We climbed back into the belly it was now close to four am and the thought of pain and fear grips you once more. It is a weird feeling to feel safer outside of tank, but I do. Outside I can move and look after myself taking cover and refuge when under attack. But in the belly of the beast, you put a lot of faith, in that word “faith”

We all closed our eyes and became lost in our worlds, war can be a solitary experience even in crowd. And each one of us inside the tank occasionally looked around as the dawn light started to filter in amongst the noise, and faces became people once more, rather than shapes. You could see eyes and thru eyes the sense of relief as we crossed back across the border.

My passport was not asked for at the border and I do not think they asked for Mike’s either, must ask him tonight if actually had his on him or whether he had conveniently forgotten his as well.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Would of written more

Last post a little short , due to the fact that sitting in the office . We suddenly heard that Katusahs were landing nearby , and I mean nearby

Qiryat Shmona
3:06 pm

The Word is LIVE

Qiryat Shmona , Northern Israel
26 July 2005

Television News has changed over the decades, in the days of Vietnam coverage would be delayed by up to 7 days for footage to go from the lens to the Evening News bulletins. The concept of watching war live did not come into its realm until the last Iraq War a few years back with the advent of videophones and vehicular systems. I remember talking to my mother from deserts of Iraq and all she could mention was how incredible it was to watch a war on the other side of the world live on her TV.

Last week up her on the Israel Lebanon border we had set up to broadcast Bill Hemmers’ show 11.00 am to 1 pm Eastern Time. Which is right on dusk here, we had a microwave link from the border to the Production Company base in Qiryat Shmona ( 6 miles from the border) then a fibre optic link to Jerusalem before being looped onto the satellite and back to New York.

Just as we started broadcasting the Israelis started shelling the village in Lebanon about a km from the camera and the hills were covered in shells landing, the Hezbollah then started to return shell and we could see the three plumes on the ridge as they fired.

It is hard to explain how you can get used to the sound of war, because more than anything it is the sound that makes you nervous, I have stopped answering the question is that incoming or out going, when you are live on a ridge watching war unfold, you are to busy trying to make it flow and give the shows a sense of involvement and drama.

Because war is drama and reality together, I am but the eyes.

Yesterday again was an incredible rush of events as bomb after bomb was dropped by the Israeli Air Force on the next ridge line from us, we now think that one of the bombs dropped killed the 4 UN Peacekeepers not to mention numbers of Hezbollah Soldiers.

At one point the skyline was a row of mushroom clouds of smoke and dust blooms, and at the bottom off the frame was the town we are staying in and my hotel. Lets just say that wake up calls can be noisy

easy to sleep

In the village of Metula it is easier to sleep with the air con on as it drowns out the sound of war .
Another intense live day and we are trapped now on the border in a closed military zone
Qiryat shmona

Sunday, July 23, 2006

the one from the blackberry

Now if your fingers are smaller than a pigmy possum. Filling from the blackberry will be easy this is the first test to see that I can file from anywhere anytime
Frantic and chaotic days off fixing the personal world up before back into the warzone tuesday.
Have not forgotten long piece coming on live from the frontline.

Friday, July 21, 2006

End of week , day 10

There are so many things I need to write about, but at the end of this week I am totally exhausted and having a few days off, such is life when you live two hours from the frontline of a major war. Now that is even harder to comprehend.
This has been an incredible week not since being embedded in the Iraq War have I shot such good war footage and that will be the essence of my next blog. Having extolled the imporatnace of being close to capture war, there are times when from the end of a long lense it looks even better and the word is LIVE

Photos from the Frontline

Thursday, July 20, 2006

On Assignment Northern Israel

Being briefed by an IDF Soldier at the Artillery Range on the Lebanon Border during extensive morning shelling

Covering War Thoughts & Diatribe

Qiryat Shmona
Northern Israel / Lebanon Border
Tuesday 18th July 2006

There is no greater rush in our job, Television News than being live from a war zone. To know that what I am seeing through my viewfinder is what the world is sharing with me at that moment. The key is to know and think thirty seconds ahead, live TV gives you no time to stop and gather your thoughts and make a decision later, every fibre of your body is taunt when covering war live.

It is not just a routine live shot with a correspondent which in 75% of the times is a mechanical action with everything preset and the knowledge that short of a streaker running naked behind the camera you are going to be finished in three minutes.

Yesterday afternoon outside Kiryat Schmona two miles from the Lebanese border we went through two and half hours of live war from a vantage point on top of a hill in old Israeli bunkers. The field below us looked like a scene from a WW2 movie, a dozen howitzers firing 155mm shells into Lebanon, you see the turret flash then the rolling sound sweeps up the valley. The sense is like that when you are at the sea swimming in the surf and you duck underwater as the wave goes over you and for a moment your body is moved by the power of the wave sweeping over you, the sound is like that, it completes you.

To film this is and predict the firing is hard it requires fast calculations and observations and yesterday my senses were at their zenith. You have those days filming combat, days that progress and climax.

Earlier we had been down in the actual field up close and I mean up close within 10 metres of them filming inserts and here your entire body is assaulted and crushed the air is sucked out of you as these machines of war deliver vengeance. The first time you stand close and they fire, the shock and awe of the destructive power is so incredible that every sense in your body crushed for a few seconds before you come back, you feel like time has stopped for second so incredible is the assault, for there is no other word: you senses have been assaulted.

Now trying holding a camera steady and not jumping or moving it during the firing, the first time you really just hope and pray, somehow how yesterday it was different. You have days in combat when a seventh sense comes in and from the light to the movements it all works, there is only one way to capture combat and that is up close. The lens must capture the smoke and smell of cordite, you need the urgency and watch the young kid sweating and out of breath as he carries shells one after another through this haze of heat dust and smoke. Only then can you honestly say you have filmed war, it is not pretty or a video from 30,000 ft of a turret camera.

You cannot glorify war but the intensity of covering it when you are that close is such an adrenalin rush; it is the hook of the drug that brings you back for more. Nothing else can match this intensity of this addiction, you want the taste again and again, and such is the power of the images you create. They are not little ants scurrying around at the end of telephoto long lenses but in full frame that gives the complete impact of war.

In war people are killed and injured, there are victims and I have filmed all sides of war from every side there are moments when the hatred for what you have witnessed destroys you and I have broken down and cried. There are the nightmares and flashbacks that wake you at night in strange hotel rooms, but there are days when covering war completes you.

When we arrived on the hilltop it began with 8 katusahs being fired at us from Hezbollah, landing in the fields half a mile away and further down the valley and into the Golan Heights. Being under attack is one thing, but being under attack whilst live on TV it was one incredible day and for two and half hours through my eyes the world could watch war live.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

What was that ?

July 16 2006
Kiryat Schmona
Northern Israel

We finally wrapped and finished around 9am this morning after another all night shift. driving back to the hotel, towards the LEBANON BORDER because it is meant to be safer and closer. We found that a complete Israeli artillery unit had set up in the valley below the hotel.

Drifting off to sleep is no problem after working all night, clean and tucked up only to be woken after a few hours, again and again by the pounding of the shells being fired into Lebanon. Then you sense another noise not the same as the shell fire, only to realise that it must be the cleaners at the hotel and doors are slamming.

So it goes on and on, shell - shell - shell - door - shell - door - door - shell - shell

We got called early back to the live location to get things moving on to hear that four katysah rockets had landed near the hotel after we left, now that is not reassuring to say the least.

Then the last impression of the day was again not what I saw, but what I heard.

We were doing a live shot when the air raid siren went off - calling everyone to get to the bomb shelters.

Somedays it is what you hear and not what you see, a good day for radio.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Summer Thunder Storm

Saturday July 15th 2006

Kiryat Shmona
Northern Israel / Lebanon Border

We finally wrapped up the Primetime shift and drove back to the hotel we are based at up here in Northern Israel at around 8:30 am. People often consider covering war means sitting in trenches covered in mud, and sometimes that is very true. But in the world of 24 hour cable news, it can also mean live shifts where for 8 - 10 hours you are the "go to" live team, on the hour, every hour, at the bottom, affiliates, sister networks the list continues.

Last night and tonight we have the Prime time shift, which with time zones means we take over coverage from midnight till 8 am, ( 5pm till 1am Eastern) and the first shot for the night is over. We could doing up to twenty shots tonight from the border city of Kiryat Shmona about six miles from the Lebanon Border.

This brings me back to the logic of where to stay whilst covering conflict, in our case we drive closer to the border to the most Northern town in Israel of Metulla. Now the logic is there is no logic, anywhere anytime in this region you are potentially in an area where Hezbollah katyusha rockets. The real worry now is not these Katyusha rockets which have a limited range, but new long range missiles that they have received from Iran, the Israeli Government is now warning its citizens that these new long range missiles are capable of hitting Tel Aviv and Patriot Missile batteries are being reactivated for the first time since the Gulf War.

The good thing about staying in Metulla can be reasoned out by saying since it is so close to the border it is harder to hit, as the Hezbollah would virtually have to be firing straight up in the air rather than at an angle and into deeper Israel. Of course this reasoning has no sound military backing but if we say it enough to each other it provides some comfort. Just as we all requested hotel rooms that faced South and not North towards Lebanon.

The title today "Summer Thunder Storm" comes from earlier tonight when we were all sitting around outside and looking to the mountains. It was like one of those hot summer storm days when you see the lightning on the horizon and moments later you hear the rolling thunder come down. Here the lightning was the intense flash of artillery fire and the sound of thunder was the boom of shells heading into Lebanon.

All Quiet on the Northern Front (NOT)

All quiet on the Northern Front (NOT)

Kiryat Shimona
Northern Israel

It may be Prime time buts it is an overnight shift here and by the time I finish I will have been working more than 24 hours straight, and to answer a question: no I do not get paid overtime or extra. In the field in a war zone you just work, if you look at a time clock you are in the wrong place.

00:55 It is so quiet in the streets now, that if there are no jets or Apache choppers flying into Lebanon, that the dogs are even to scared to bark. Reports now have close to a quarter of a million Israelis across the North are bunkered down in bomb shelters. The only sign of life at the moment is the silent cruising of the occasional Police car with its lights flashing, almost like a submarine running silent, the police car patrols the streets of Kiryat Shimona in Northern Israel 10 km from the border with Lebanon.

01:35 – If Dana our Producer does not change the ring tone on her phone, from Hawaii Five O. I will throw the bloody thing down the toilet by the morning. Of course the battery is going flat so it must be charges on the other side of the workspace, so rather than ringing once I get to hear the whole flaming song, and you think the Nokia Tune sucks.

02:10 – Just watched Israeli artillery firing into Lebanon, took me three attempts to walk back in the workspace every time I stepped inside another noise drew me back outside.

04:10 – How to make people jump in the workspace, accidentally bang your arm back against the glass wall and suddenly everyone looks up and goes “That’s close” say nothing and do it again just to get another reaction, before admitting it. Extensive outgoing Israeli artillery all night, you see the red flashes streak up and into Lebanon. Jets and choppers still fly around the black sky.
At least Dana’s Hawaii 5o phone has stopped ringing out loud, thank mercy for small things.

06:00 Dawn, more artillery some birds and still no dogs barking or signs of life on the streets. Sun is streaming in thru the workspace window, going to be a nice day hope to sleep thru most of it. Only two and half hours to go, shower and bed got to stop drinking coffee.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Northern Front

July 14 2006

Kiryat Schmone, Northern Israel
(6 miles from the Lebanon Border)

Driving into a town where there are no cars on the roads, no people in streets and the traffic lights are just flashing amber is sombre. Kiryat Schmone is normally a busy tourist town, the Switzerland of Israel as it is refered to by locals. There is not one tourist here and every shop has its shutters down, the bomb shelter doors are open and residents spend most of their time bunkered down.

Our vantage spot looks out to the North and Lebanon, to the south in the valley is Kiryat Schmone. The stillness of the hot summer winds is only broken by the sound of incoming Katusah Rockets being fired in from Lebanon and landing blocks away. Police are driving around on their loudspeakers telling everyone to get into the shelters.

Earlier this afternoon when I was setting up the dish on the roof of our operation, a rocket whistled in and landed only a couple of blocks away, with an all mighty bang. At times the fields to the north have constant plumes of smoke and dust rising.

Itseems so starnge that a couple of days ago, down in Gaza I was under fire from Israel artillery pounding Hamas , and now I am on the other side of the fence. The trouble is in warzones, is that you cannot sit on that fence.

Kiryat Schmone
Northern Israel

Thursday, July 13, 2006

One word "PACK"

Something you have to get used to, is the fact that nothing in the News business is static. I thought that with all the tensions in gaza I would be down there another week at least, I even went and bought a fan for my room last night. Thinking this is a good long term purchase.
I had only been up less than an hour having cleaned the vehicle for the day and a couple of cups of coffee later I was killing time in my room reading one of the great novels of War & News "Delcorso's Gallery". When Mark (Jerusalem Deputy Bureau Chief) rang and said one word "PACK" will call you back in a minute.
Since then I have made my way back to the bureau in Jerusalem and have put together the Norsat Uplink Kit to take up to the Lebanon boarder in the morning, more correspondents are coming in and we are ramping up coverage on the Israel Lebanon Boarder.
At least I get a night without shelling between the wars, wonder what will happen to my fan.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Language Faux Pas

Gaza City
July 12, 2006


There are moments on the road, when you are in places where the choice of language does matter, because you never know what the reaction will be.

At about three am in morning, when I was enduring yet another totally restless and hot night with no air conditioning in the room due to power blackouts caused by Israeli Urban Redevelopment program at the Gaza Power Station a couple of weeks ago. So during my tossing and turning the Israeli Air Force dropped a quarter ton bomb on a three-storey house.

In the ensuing chaos seven members of an Islamic University Professors family were killed as the house collapsed. However what the Professor might of forgotten to tell his family members was that he had invited a few close friends around to use his living room as a meeting place.

Now what he also might of neglected to tell the rest of the family was that in fact the friends in question were in fact some of the top echelon of the Hamas Military wing and that one of the boys Mohamed Deif is fact the most wanted man by the Israelis and is known as the Israeli Osama Bin Laden he is so wanted, this guy has escaped three previous assaination attempts on his life.

This was no meeting to discuss the next agenda items for the forthcoming Annual general Meeting of Hamas Social Club or who was to arrange the trestle tables for the forthcoming cake sale. This was a top echelon meeting of senior Hamas Militants, now naturally the Israeli Secret Service upon finding out about this meeting rang the Air Force who struck this building with ultimate force.

The death of civilians in any conflict is a tragedy and the family have become yet another statistic to be forgotten in time, whilst all the leaders to our knowledge escaped with some being injured. The Hamas Media Spokesman declined to give any details on how the “Most Wanted” are doing or what their present condition is.

Late this afternoon we did hear that Hamas Gunmen had taken over a section of the Main Hospital for a while; read into this that they did not want to queue in the Outpatients with the “friends” that needed treatment. After getting Medical Attention they left, no doubt without paying the bill.

The power of a Militant group like Hamas is not to be questioned. In fact it was talked about quite openly today. That one of the Agencies had arrived at the scene of the bombing in time to film one of the senior “Most Wanted’s” leaving the scene injured but alive. The agency was phoned and told not to transmit that image; freedom of the press is not noted in the Hamas constitution.

I spent nearly twelve hours on the scene there today in conditions that go from bad to worse to worser and worst. The heat of the midday sun, lack of food and the sheer numbers of kids being obnoxious. The only English they learn at school being “What’s your name” breaks the language barrier? What’s your name? What’s your name?, What’s your name?.

It does not matter what you answer the follow up to your reply is in most cases “Fuck you Yehuda (Jew). I just avoid any contact reply in French or simply say, “I’m Australian” to which the reply is either, “What’s your name? Or the new crowd favorite “Fuck you Yehuda”.

After nine hours in the Middle East full summer sun, you can get forgetful of where you are and I think Producer Maryam Sepehri will never forget this moment.

The house is destroyed, bystanders and kids are still milling about, Hamas Militants are now in charge of crowd control and along with Correspondent David Lee Miller, Maryam and I are killing time before the next live shot at the bottom of the hour. It is an emotional and still potentially volatile scene, but safe. The sound of the afternoon artillery shelling of North Eastern Gaza was starting to boom in the background.

Maryam’s phone rings and it is the office in Jerusalem who simply give the standard Hebrew “hello” to which Maryam responds with the standard Hebrew “hello”. David and I just about shat ourselves for her to shut up, “did you really think that this is the best place to say ….”

Here we are out side a family home that has had nine members killed by an enormous bomb, surrounded by Hamas Militants carrying guns, Israel is shelling their land a few miles away and the locals are certainly not candidates for the Gaza Mensa Association.

Maryam, please please in future do not answer the phone by responding with a cheerful “SHALOM” back.

David and I just collapsed with the sort of it could only happen on the road laughter.

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.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Weekend Leave

Thursday 6 2006

As bizarre as it may sound I am out for the weekend, you can leave the war zone that envelopes Gaza in one hour and be back in a sane and relatively normal world.

The Israelis opened the border for a few hours this morning to allow Journalists in and out, I took the out option after nearly four weeks in Gaza it is a great relief. You feel for your collegues who are still down there, but I know that Sunday Morning if the border iis open I will be headed back into Gaza for another stint.

Last night a crew from Al Jazeera was attacked by Palestinians on the suspicion that they were Israelis and in the gunfire the driver was shot, yet another way the whole mess is developing down there. When an Arabic network is attacked on the grounds that the rumours had them pegged as Israelis you just realise that driving anywhere in Gaza now , the media is a target from both sides.

My final words to Pierre the Fox News Cameraman who is down there still when he dropped us off at the border were "Be Safe, take no risks"

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Thanks, but your dead Gaza

Gaza City
July 05 2006

"Thanks, but your dead Gaza"

You can have one of those days when it seems that all you ever hear back on the IFB , is that your shot has been dropped for breaking news. The missile launches by North Korea overnight our time, have meant that events in the Middle east have moved down the news agenda.

The trouble was that we had a bloody good live shot up and running, we were by the American School looking down into the greenhouses that the new long range Qassam missile had been fired from into Southern Israel. The new missile has a range of ten km's or six miles and has added a new dimension to the terror strikes that the militant wings of Hamas and islamic Jihad can use. Last night one of the groups fired from the greenhouses and it landed in a school in Ashqulon. The Israeli's have taken this threat very seriously, and in reality this is a far bigger issue than the kidnapping of the soldier opver a week ago.

So for a good couple of hours we were on the hill running a live shot back to New York, with a constant barrage of artillery landing about a mile or so away, after hearing the thud of outgoing we waited twenty five seconds and waited for the bang of impact.

However in the scheme of the world today and North Korea playing with even bigger missiles, almost every live shot was pre empted , first by the UN Security , then by President Bush speaaking , the UN Ambassadors speaking , then Condoleeza Rice speaking. The Control Room kept coming back to us and asking us to hang and then something else would break. Ken Lay the disgraced former Enron chief suddenly dies in Aspen and another story pre empts us.

Earlier in the day an explosion in the Zeitoun district had everyone scramble out there, but the moment everyone had their cameras out, masked gunmen from Islamic Jihad point the kalshnikovs and told all media to leave. Apparently a bomb factory had what we call an Internal accident and two guys working on bomb and missille making mangaed to blow themselves to kingdom come.

This morning also had a great start being woken at 5:54am by a Sonic boom and then listening to hotel staff cleaning up broken glass for the next thirty minutes.

If they just became regular with the sonic boom attacks I would not need an alarm clock

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


Gaza City
JULY 4 2006

What the hell were those mothers in the tank thinking today, some nineteen year old punks just did not like the fact that we had arrived to film them and there response was to fire a shell to move us. The shell exploded ten meters away from the armored car. Her we mark our cars with big bold gaffer tape with TV to indicate that we are media and to avoid this type of shit going down.

Normally we accept a machine gun burst in front of the car as the accepted sign that we are to leave the area, this has been done quite a few times and it is like a policeman putting up tape at a crime scene, simple you cannot enter this area.

But a tank shell ten meters away would of blown the five of us in the car to death and that is pure murder.

The Israelis like good press coverage but try to cover them when they are in invasion mode from the other side and they go into a totally different mode. I would file an official complaint with the IDF (Israeli Defence Force) but it would be to no avail so why bother.

It just proves that out here, in the blink of an eye it could all be over

We left in reverse at a great speed only to find that the local palestinians were just as pissed at us because they were trying to plant bombs in the area and they could not get close now as the surveliance balloon would be monitoring the area and drones would come overhead with the cameras.

We spent the rest of the afternoon filming artillery shells landing in the greenhouses that Militants use to fire Qassams into Israel, sitting on the hill watching war and smoking cigarettes

Monday, July 03, 2006

Danger, Reality and Covering War

Gaza City
July 3rd 2006

The other day I wrote a very short piece about what happened to us on the ridge overlooking the orchards towards Sederot, from Beit Hanoun in Northern Gaza.

And only now feel that with reflection can I write about what it is like to be that close to live fire coming it at you. It is one thing to film tanks or artillery firing out, and this I have done on countless occasions, with honestly very little thought about what it would be like to be at the other end of live fire.

Filming out going fire is nothing more than a mechanical action of a few standard shots in the news terms, it is wide shots and close ups, big bits of metal making noise basically, you only hear the initial boom and that is it.

The other day with correspondent Mike Tobin and our Gaza fixer/producer Neal we were at the other end of the boom.

The first thing is the noise, in the distance you do hear of the shell being fired, like a dull thud in the distance, it is almost muffled, it is not a crisp or sharp sound like a bullet. But a thud that lasts nearly a second.

Then you wait and suddenly the air becomes alive with a whistle, high pitched and fast. You immediately tense up and wait for impact for that sound is coming and this when you say a silent prayer. It is traveling so fast that you cannot see it coming.

I remember in Iraq during the war when I was almost killed when a RPG round landed about 5 meters away from Greg Kelly and I, I still to this day can picture the RPG in slow motion as it impacted next to us, before it blew us off our feet. I do not have nightmares or reflect on it much anymore, as in the scheme of the war I was to see and experience far worse. But to this day I still can replay the slow motion impact of the RPG almost hitting us.

Artillery Shells though are another thing, these rounds are big fast and deadly, at the same time we all have images of bomb craters the sizes of meteors, whilst in reality these shells when they hit can leave a pothole in a tarmac road the size of a small Childs swimming pool and about half a meter deep, and given Gaza road conditions there are bigger potholes.

The thing with artillery though is the constant barrage when it comes in waves it is almost never ending, like a metronome ticking slowly they land explode and send clouds of dust dirt and debris in the air a hundred feet, that is if they hit nothing but dirt that is. If they hit any solid object it is destroyed.

We had set up to go live from this outpost and had watched a salvo land in a field nearly 1 km away, it was thud, whistle explode and repeat and the rounds were landing in close proximity to each other, so the feeling of danger was not that great for the moment.
You must trust your instincts and remain relaxed, as bizarre as this sounds remaining calm under fire is the way you stay alive. Your instincts become extremely focused and this is the only way you can work in our job in these situations. Every action you take becomes very calculated and the importance of each member of the team is to focus on what your role is.

You are in this situation because you are there, and at that moment in time remaining calm will keeps you alive.

Just before our live shot the artillery started to adjust the range and all of a sudden what was a km away was now 500 m then 300 m then 200m, and as New York threw to us, we could hear the thud in the distance Mike stepped aside and I zoomed in for the impact, then back out to Mike covering the shelling, this went on for about three minutes and made for great TV, however all our phones were ringing like crazy with the basic message – Great work but get the hell out of there NOW.

News is an adrenalin rush industry and at this level the game is played at extremely high stakes. The thing that is hard to explain to anyone is that you do not deliberately go out to place yourself in situations like this. We do not wake up and say to each other “lets go and place ourselves under live fire”. It is a fact that when you cover conflict from time to time, fate will deal you hand that you must face.

How we all react is often the determining factor as to whether you survive, the learning curve is unforgiving and to many people in our business have died in recent years in wars like Iraq. In Iraq the threat is totally different to that we face in Gaza, here we are not embedded with one side or the other, Israelis or Palestinians, often we are in the middle, and that is a tough place to be.

To survive you must be scared and accept the reality of where you are, but that does not mean that valued judgment has been excluded, never.

What we did was in a few words “incredible TV News” was it silly or stupid “No” we found ourselves in an evolving situation that was beyond our control, what we achieved was to remain professional calm and focused on our predicament and that is reality of covering war.

Gaza City
July 3, 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 …..

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Bad Boys Being Badder

Gaza City
Sunday Morning

Small boys grow up to become bigger boys and here that means graduating into the schools of militancy and taking up the gun, there is basically nothing much else to do when you have no viable future. The other evening we were out doing a live shot at one of the sand berns that have began to spring up around Gaza City and this one was deep in a Hamas stronghold.

A Hamas Unit controlled all traffic thru the bern and whilst traffic violations are ignored, they do put a menacing threat to any Israeli forces that enter the city. Whilst a sand bern can slow down any attempt at tanks to enter, the berns will have to be cleared first by bulldozers and the Israeli Miltary bulldozers are one mean bulldozer.

The Hamas boys with RPG's though pose another threat.

Gaza City

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Under Live Fire

Gaza - Beit Hanoun
Thursday 29 June 2006

One of those live shots where everyone was asking if we were safe, well we were not, Israeli artillery shells were landing about 200m from where we were going live from, made for great live televison, except the moment everyone saw the live pictures our phones lit up , first with incredible TV guys but get the hell out of there

Lack of Sleep

Gaza City
Saturday 1st July 2006 9.15 am

I have spent the last five hours trying to conjure up the right words to explain the effects of lack of sleep. It is not the fact that the hours for the last few days have been so insane that I have not had the time to sleep, but the fact that you cannot get much sleep without being woken up by the ongoing Israeli operations.

Now this story can start in one of many ways, but it is best described as a visual picture that everyone can relate too.

In all of our bathrooms at home we have extractor fans that basically suck out the steam and stuff from the air, and over time these get full of gunk and dust that matts together and forms basically black gunk, when we remember every few months we take apart the extractor fan and to the best of our ability clean out the gunk.

For anyone who is intrested that is no longer a problem for me in Room 101 in The Beach Hotel Gaza.

Now we all have romantic pictures and ideals of what it is like to go supersonic, from military hero films of the sixties of clean cut pilots breaking the final frontier, to the little digital readout that you would see from film of the concorde going supersonic between London and New York.

BUT and I say BUT in big bold capital letters , there is a difference when the Israeli Air Force uses this as a weapon of intimidation and threat, throughout the day and night , jets scream into Gaza and timing it to maximum effect they go supersonic at low altitude right over the city.

The air is sucked back for a moment and you can see the windows start to bow, the air goes into a vacuum and with a force that destroys your senses for the moment the air explodes like a train crash around you and feel the air around you contract and expand.

And a few seconds later the noise of the jet can be heard and that tells you that it is not a military strike but just a wake up from the Israeli Air Force , there seems to be a pattern that sees them come in with two sweeps the first of the day is at around 4:30 am the second within the half hour before five. Then another round an hour or so later once again two in succession.

This has been going on for nights now, and I go to sleep waiting and bracing for the first supersonic crash. Wondering if and when perhaps my hotel room window will implode and send glass shattering everywhere or perhaps just crack it, like other windows in the hotel.

So how does this story come back to my bathroom fan, well the effect of the first sonic boom this morning because I had my room window open, because the air conditioner is not working due to lack of electricity. Well the vacuum of the air being sucked out due to the boom sucked all the gunk out of the fan and my bathroom and toilet was covered in black slime gunk fluffs.

And thus my day started today in Gaza.