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.

Phil Coomes Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    38. Shailesh
    What a crass and inhumane comment. Every life has value. You have absolutely no idea who this man was so you can't make a judgment on his life. Unless that is you believe there is no value to ANY Palestinian life.
    War is horrific and this photo shows the unspeakable horrors of war full stop.

  • Comment number 41.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    Shallow and sentimental reportage.

    Why should a photographer appear as having any unique insight into human tragedy?

    I find this to be voyeurism of the worst kind.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    It has always been completely incomprehensible to me how people can want to kill other people, randomly, simply because they were born in another country. Isn't it really about time world leaders learned to settle their differences without such barbarism? These photographs simply convey the utter absurdity and inhumanity of such situations.

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    If a photograph could talk, this is it isnt it...Talks volumes about the pain involved in losing someone you love. But it still falls short...
    Every life has a purpose. Not sure if that life served its purpose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    War photography is an art form in non verbal communication. It`s more powerful and persuasive than words or political justification ever could be. It`s an abstract way for people to make up their own minds about what they see based on how they experience and process the images before them. In conclusion, it serves as a reminder to all decent human beings that war should be a crime against us all.

  • Comment number 36.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    31. AndyEsbjerg

    While I agree there is a fine line between respect and intrusiveness with respect journalism, the publication of violence is not the problem. When I see pictures and read articles such as above, and has been written of Newtown, it makes me even more determined to never bring such suffering upon a fellow human being. Since none of us can know our future, this is enough for me.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Re. 28 What the Taliban do in other countries has little bearing on the conflict in the Middle East. There the slaughtered are usually Palestinians, as in the last conflict where the total was 158 to 6. Imagine the uproar if there the Israelis had 158 people to mourn.

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Less than 200 dead isn't a war.

    It's just a squabble between two Countries who should know better.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    It's little unfair to accuse a war photographer of bias: he can't be in two places at once. And he could take hundreds of pictures of one side in a war, and only one of the other, but if the one is a better photograph, then that will get more attention from media and public, thus distorting the perception. All bias is in the eye of the viewer, not the lens.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    Whilst this type of photography brings home the horror of war, irrespective of who started what, it doesn't seem to temper the the leaders of the various factions, whom seem to be ready to sacrifice their people!The coverage of the killings in Newtown, USA has been all to intrusive, and gices the perpertrator far too much publicity.Maybe we give too much publicity to all, perpetuating the violence

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    @27. Leo. Well stated.
    @All: The way to stop the crooks, religous bigots (all brands), power mad rulers etc is to expose them. These pictures should ruffle feathers with what is really happening to people. Support the REAL photographers/journalists.
    The sad thruth about this and all other conflicts is the human tragedy not the long lost rights and wrongs we argue for ever about.

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    I remember as a child in the 60's seeing TV pictures from Vietnam showing the full horror of war. This has given me an anti war outlook that persists. We do not get these pictures anymore in such graphic details. We should see more of the real effects of war so we have an informed choice when we vote.

  • Comment number 28.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

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    Comment number 27.

    Please let us not turn this into a pointless argument about Israel vs Palestine, as Tony of Britain (and others) would seem to want us to. This article is about the horror of war and that is what we should be commenting on.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    If the Israelis stop thinking of themselves as gods chosen people and stealing other peoples land then maybe just maybe we could have some peace!

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Some people aren't reading the whole article. I repeat: this is one of a series of articles about the work of photographers and social injustice victims in the world.
    We should be helping the photographers and journalists to continue their work in all social conflicts. Which is what the BBC are doing.
    Is the gutter press supporting this type of work? Only if celebs are involved.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    The true enemy of humanity - religious fundamentalism. I thank my grandad for telling me his stories of his time in the trenches (such has having to bayonet men with "Gott Mit Uns" on their belt buckles) in the Great War that turned him (Irish Catholic) and me into staunch atheists.

  • Comment number 23.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?


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