• August 10, 2021

The price of war in Gaza: Times video shows trauma to survivors

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In May, hostilities broke out in Gaza between Israel and Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that rules the coastal territory. The resulting 11-day war killed 260 people in Gaza and 13 people in Israel, according to the United Nations, and reduced entire sections of Gaza City to smoking rubble. The Israeli army said it was targeting Hamas’ military infrastructure in Gaza.

Coverage of the war was limited because Israel, citing security concerns, closed Gaza’s borders to foreign journalists. But civilians captured video of the attacks. After a ceasefire was declared, Yousur Al-Hlou, a video journalist for The New York Times, and Neil Collier, a former Times staff member who now works as a freelancer, traveled to Gaza, a process that took several days and involved going through numerous security checks, quarantining in Jerusalem, and obtaining permission from Hamas.

Amid bombed buildings, they spoke with survivors and then produced a 14-minute video released last month that tells the story of the war and its aftermath through the eyes of those residents.

The Times reported on the impact on both sides of the border, including a video on Israeli border communities that were affected and a visual investigation into the deadliest series of airstrikes in Gaza during the conflict. The video of Ms. Al-Hlou and Mr. Collier offered a unique look at the destruction in Gaza from those who witnessed it first hand.

The project was a unique opportunity to examine the toll that perpetual war and reconstruction have on the residents there, Collier said.

“One of the first things we noticed was the extent to which people were still in shock and traumatized,” he said. “There were lingering effects of the war that had not necessarily been captured in images from Gaza.”

His video portrays the chaos and terror of air strikes: a teenager screaming on the ground after his father and cousin were killed; sisters hiding under a blanket when their house was bombed. One of the sisters said she removed her phone password because she wanted people to be able to access the pictures she took if she died.

Hanaan Sarhan, a senior producer on the project, said the Times team working on the video also wanted to include quieter moments from the aftermath of the war: a girl who wanted to go back to school so she could help with the rebuilding effort; a musician wondering where he was going to get the money to replace his equipment; parents celebrating the birth of their newborn son, hoping that he would not have to live another war.

Soliman Hijjy, a Gaza-based video journalist, helped identify potential interview subjects and witnesses who captured the violence on their phones. With Ms. Al-Hlou and Mr. Collier, he went out of his way to ensure that all the cell phone videos they collected came directly from the source and had not been edited.

The team tracked down each source, visiting each one in person to view the images on the person’s phone and confirm when and where they were taken. Mr. Collier also used a GPS watch in each interview, recording the satellite coordinates so that he and Ms. Al-Hlou could check them against the location of the attacks.

During the month that Ms. Al-Hlou and Mr. Collier were in Gaza, they faced hourly power outages, unreliable internet, and shortages of clean water. Those are everyday realities for the roughly two million residents whose movements in and out of the territory are restricted by Israel and Egypt, which shares a border with Gaza.

“The realities of living and working in Gaza are difficult,” said Ms. Al-Hlou.

In early June, as the team was finishing its report and preparing to leave Gaza, the Israeli army carried out another round of airstrikes in the territory, prompting fears of another sustained conflict. It didn’t happen, but the anxiety remained.

A formal ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas has yet to be finalized.

“At any moment,” Sarhan said, “another war could happen again.”

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