Picture power: The price of war

Inside the Shifa Hospital, Gaza, 18 November 2012

In the third of a series of five articles where photographers are invited to talk about the back story to one of their pictures taken this year, Associated Press photographer Bernat Armangue speaks about how he obtained this moving picture during the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas.

On 14 November 2012 Israel launched its offensive against militants in Gaza, following an escalation of cross-border violence which has raged between the two sides for years. At least 158 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed in the eight-day conflict, which Israel said was aimed at halting rocket fire from the Palestinian territory.

Armangue has covered the unrest between Israel and the Palestinians for a number of years.

Bernat Armangue

When Israel killed Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari on 14 November I was in Cairo working on a project about Egypt's Coptic community. I remember I was editing my pictures on my computer when suddenly all the TVs in our office began showing footage of fire fighters trying to extinguish the flames of the Hamas car wreckage.

When I first arrived in Jerusalem, one of the most important things my colleagues told me was, "you can't predict in the Middle East". Even though when I realized that Jabari was the target my stomach immediately told me, "move now, this will be a big one".

Bernat Armangue

Bernat Armangue

Originally from Barcelona, Bernat Armangue started his career freelancing for Spanish newspapers and since 2005 has been a staff member of The Associated Press.

As an international news agency photographer Armangue has covered all kind of news events: from Summer Olympic Games, Fifa World Cups or Gran Slam tennis competitions to top political stories such as the post election violence in Kenya in 2008, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Libya or the Egyptian political transition.

In 2008, during the Operation Cast Lead, Israel closed access into Gaza, so most of us had to cover the conflict from the Israeli side. This time I was worried that something similar would happen so I prepared the paperwork to cross into Gaza from Rafah (on the Egyptian side) but also decided to gamble on taking an early flight to Tel Aviv just in case I needed to cross in from Israel. This time it was different and on 15 November I managed to enter Gaza through Erez (an Israeli controlled border crossing).

I took this picture a few days later at the end of a long Sunday spent taking pictures of Palestinian rescue workers pulling out bodies from beneath the rubble. As it began to get dark, I decided to visit the morgue of the main hospital in Gaza City.

There, four bodies of children were lying on a metallic table. I took some pictures of them and when I thought I had enough I decided to move on.

But just then a group of men stormed into the room and their gaze fell on a different cadaver, it was someone they knew. They surrounded the body and began shouting and wailing, as they tried to process the idea that someone they cherished was gone.

I began taking pictures of them, realising they were not likely to even notice me, so immersed were they in their grief. I saw one of them, grasping and kissing the hand of this dead man while whispering goodbye. After a few seconds, I knew my job was done and I left the room. I guess I witnessed a sad moment of love.

No matter which side of a conflict you are covering, nobody enjoys taking pictures in moments like this. For years, I've covered both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian problem and I've seen people from both sides mourning their lost ones. I guess this is what this picture shows: the price of war, no matter who or where you are.

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  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    21. Tony of Britain. I agree not enough about both sides. You state: "The thing is, these photographers show bias in war. They forget that the same thing is happening on the other side."
    Another pic shows a drugs victim. Should they therefore show the benefits enjoyed by the drugs barons?
    No truth while the trash press screams the loudest but don't shoot the honest messengers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    @17. WHL_Nick

    So one article may or may not cover both side of the Israeli-Palestine problem. However, I see mostly people blaming Israel for the Palestine problem and a lot of articles going on about the suffering of the Palestinians. I want to see a lot of articles covering both sides of the problem, instead of plenty of articles stating that Palestinians are innocents, which they are not.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    8. Tony of Britain

    Reporters are human - allegedly (*smirk*) - just as the rest of us are, so are susceptible to bias. However, basing your opinions purely on what media reports is never a good idea. While media can inform, it rarely tells a whole truth, but that is no reason to castigate media and reporters for reporting. Even from a report you claim is biased, I can take that war is horrific.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    Political rhetoric has that quality of being able to standardise and sanitise the horrors of war.

    A picture paints a thousand words they say but it paints much more than that, it paints the effect and consequences of war upon the human “soul” and it is something that we ignore at our peril if we wish to retain our humanity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    There are FIVE articles in this series showing the work of photographers taken in awful situations, e.g. Nigeria victim, Drugs victim etc. The BBC under Mr Coombes have made sure this work is at recognised. There is no cash to be gained by the BCC for publishing the work only rasing awareness of the victims and some very brave people . This is true journalism not tabloid junk. Go read the Bun!

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    @8. Tony of Britain. I quote from the article "For years, I've covered both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian problem...." Read it next time,.
    @all. A tragedy for both sides. Murdoch's nasty, crumbling empire ignore real reporting for commercial concerns. Only the BBC, Private Eye, Independant and a few indies show signs of real journalism. Well done BBC, now clean up the other stuff.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    @Amuse 1

    BBC ''starts wars with its propaganda''... ?

    I assume you are referring to the same BBC propaganda machine that values your critical opinion of it sufficiently, to give you its own excellent website platform to protest?

    Freedom is fundamentally the possibility of standing on a street corner and shouting “There is no freedom here!”

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    There's a big difference between necessary media documentation of wars and tragedies, and flagrant exploitation.

    Gaza, and Newtown CT massacre are the same sides of the coin when it comes to the Media saturation coverage debate.

    But when the coverage is exploitative like the Sun Helen Flanagan headline this morning. ''BRAINLESS' it shouts, with quotes from Newtown. Yes it most certainly is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    There are photographs designed for use as evidence and paid for for use as historical documents or propaganda. Some show a moment in an an event for its emotive or artistic composition that attracts the photographer doing his job. A freelance photographer is likely to be biased to his fee for the photograph sold to the highest bidder using scenes from both sides and neutral elements. Its his job.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    Reading these comments, why is it that people still have this comic book idea of good versus evil? Why can't both sides be the good guys? Why can't both sides be the bad guys? Why argue about bias or who's done what? It takes two sides to start a war...

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Shame on the BBC for it's poor reporting on the present wars. They make them invisible with no images of the real suffering that is going on. Yes it's hard to stomach the image of a child with a limb blown off but that is what is happening on a daily basis and if we want an end to this terrible violence the BBC should be exposing what our governments are up to. Hey BBC!! - stop towing the USA line

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    @3: Most people aren't interested in word games. What most people want to see is peace in the region. The most likely way that is going to happen is if we accept that the only viable option is a one state solution where everyone is treated equally regardless of race, religion, sex and, shock horror, sexual preference. These are the values of the West. This is what we hold dear.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    I'm really not sure that there is a bias here - it's just a brief snapshot of one photographers career. i do think that the bbc is often guilty of bias but not here. war photographers have been around since WW1 and always will be. don mccullin has produced some of the most moving war pictures i've ever seen covering all sides of wars over time. don't write biased opinions based on one photograph.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    hey bbc.what about an article of your pro Israeli bias during war?

  • rate this

    Comment number 8.

    The thing is, these photographers show bias in war. They forget that the same thing is happening on the other side. An example is the Balkan wars. We were subjected to terrible news and photographs of what was happening to the Croats and Bosnian Muslims, but nothing on the Bosnian Serbs. The Bosnian Serbs suffered ethnic cleansing and concentration camps as well, which few people realise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 7.

    It's debatable allowing photographers to take pictures like this and invoke strong emotional responses.
    On the plus side, they can get people aware of events and push to get them stopped; but on the negative side, they add fuel to the fire and cause others to take up arms in response, which just adds to the conflict and makes things worse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 6.

    I have only 363 characters remaining!

  • rate this

    Comment number 5.

    Article called the price of war. One entry about one person's viewpoint written. Impressive.

    Why don't we talk about the sorts of things the USA gets up to, even to nations it's not at war with? Such as launching a drone and killing a load of 'militants' and then sending a second drone to kill the people who have come to help them. 'Double tap' operations as they're called....

  • rate this

    Comment number 4.

    BBC Biased................I wouldn't expect anything else from this 2nd rate News outlet anymore.

  • rate this

    Comment number 3.

    The BBC were1st to use the term "Palestinians" in the early 70s mystifying us who study history: Only Jews were ever called Palestinians & the Arabs sent a delegation to the UN in the 1950s claiming "Palestine" was a Zionist myth. We often heard the term Irish Terrorists & Palestinian Fighters from the mouths of BBC reporters on the same bulletins. It is mum on child suicide bombers & still is.


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