As the Israeli war on Gaza enters its sixth week, interest and discussion are increasing about the role of photojournalists – especially during wartime – in documenting and writing people’s lives with images that capture the details of the moment and compose the scene from different angles to resemble a photographic poem.
The photographer preserves important events in a photographic historical record, conveys the most difficult and cruel facts of the war to a wide audience, raises human sensitivity to the events, which encourages humanitarian support, and contributes to directing public opinion, influencing decision-makers and achieving justice, especially since the photographs may be used in war tribunals. And crimes against humanity to help hold those involved accountable, even after a while.
Threats to Gaza photographers
But this “sacred mission” does not come without a heavy price, whether in terms of the personal safety of the photojournalist who is exposed to threats, or psychological safety, and photographers rank at the top of the list prepared annually by Reporters Without Borders of journalists who are killed while performing their duties, due to the nature of their work. Which forces them to get as close as possible to the scene of the event to take the picture with the finest details possible.
In the Israeli war on Gaza, a new chapter of danger is added to the photographer’s suffering, represented by the threats targeting them, as the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu published an inflammatory leaflet – on the “X” platform the day before yesterday, Thursday – against the photojournalists who documented the attack on October 7. the past.
Danny Danon, the former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations and the current prominent representative of the Likud Party led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, wrote on his page on the “X” platform that the Israeli Internal Security Service announced that it would eliminate all participants in the attack of last October 7, and added that “the photographers Journalists who participated in recording the attack will be added to the list.”
On the other hand, major international media outlets strongly denied the accusations directed at their photojournalists in the Gaza Strip that they had prior knowledge of the attack on October 7, and the denial came in separate statements issued by the New York Times and CNN. In addition to Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse.
The New York Times considered the accusations against one of its cooperating photojournalists “untrue and shameful,” and accused the pro-Israel website behind them of recklessly “endangering the lives of our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza.”
Covering war is a sacred duty
In Europe, in conjunction with these threats, veteran photographer Steve McCurry said that covering the war has become increasingly dangerous for journalists, but it remains a “sacred duty.”
The photographer who took one of the most famous photographs ever of the green-eyed Afghan girl who appeared on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1984, is participating in a new collection at the Paris Photo Show this week.
The 73-year-old photographer, who has worked across Asia and beyond and was recently on assignment in Ukraine, said, “The photographer’s profession has changed dramatically during the war. It has become much more dangerous.”
“In the past, they were respected and protected more,” McCurry added.
He added, “Now they may actually target you because they know that they will get some kind of publicity for arresting or killing a journalist.”
Reporting on war can also have a personal impact, McCurry told Agence France-Presse, as “certain images may haunt you for years.”
“You have to be careful not to let it become exhausting and obsess over it because it’s a type of negative energy,” he added.
McCurry added, “You have to remind yourself that this is the work you have chosen. Who else is going to tell us the story of what is happening in our world? It is a sacred duty, and it is not suitable for everyone.”
Journalists today face much more competition than when Steve McCurry started his business in the 1970s from ordinary people filming with their phones.
In this regard, he said, “It is not only about transmitting news, but thousands of people also make films and video clips.”
But the moral challenges remain the same: “You have to keep your distance, as careful as you are to never carry a weapon.”
He explained, “You have to be very careful to be neutral. We always have opinions on any topic, but we have to maintain our credibility, be honest reporters and not get involved in anything that could jeopardize our credibility.”
McCorry’s latest book, Devotion, offers a sort of antidote to images of war, and he says that having a higher purpose in life, such as community service, “is something I’ve always admired deeply.”
He added, “Even when it comes to people who are dedicated to caring for their life partners, selflessness and compassion toward others is a beautiful thing.”