The first time I heard a Code Red siren was on the first night of IDF Operation Pillar of Defense. The siren sounded just as I slowed down at a red light at the entrance to Beersheba, the first stop in the search for sites where rockets had fallen. During the whole drive down, my colleagues, reporter Ben Hartman and photographer Marc Israel Sellem, had been rehearsing the scenario of what to do in case there is a Code Red alert while we are in the car. So, I was surprised at myself when I responded by simply putting the car in Park and bolting, leaving the engine running, the doors open, and all my camera gear inside.
As I was running, with arms hysterically flailing according to Marc, I thought - wait, this is what I came down here for! I came to catch on film the siren, the panic, the running; I was angry that I had missed the opportunity. My anger proved to be a waste of energy, though - this was to become a somewhat absurd work pattern for the rest of the operation; running both to and from rockets fired from Gaza.
Video: Kiryat Malachi residents run for cover during Code Red Siren
I caught this video on Thursday, the second day of the operation, just as we arrived in the Kiryat Malachi neighborhood where, earlier that day, a building was directly hit in a wave of rockets, killing three Israelis.
Although I knew the scene we were about to enter would be difficult, the sound of the siren and the boom that followed made it more real. It wasn’t just a scene we would come in to chronicle and then leave to edit and file for the paper. It was live and we ourselves were part of the story. With this unfamiliar reality and state of alarm, I entered the scene of the deadliest attack on Israel during the operation.Video: Devastation at site of deadly Kiryat Malachi site of rocket strike
Surprisingly, watching the three bodies being taken out of the building and into the ambulances didn’t bother me. I was standing far away, behind police red tape, along a line of photographers and videographers waiting to grab the frame of MDA and ZAKA workers taking the white plastic covered masses tied to stretchers.
What got to me was being inside the apartments that were hit. All of a sudden I was in someone's personal space, now covered in rubble and blood. Everything that once made up this home was now in pieces on which I had to struggle for a stable footing. There were dozens of journalists including myself crowding in the small apartments for a shot of the ZAKA volunteer clearing remains in between the rubble, and struggled for a clear spot when politicians came to have their say, and their face, on the background of the fields stretching south from the apartment’s torn down wall.
A journalist scrum is never pleasant. Journalists elbow their way into what I imagine from the outside looks like a pile of limbs with lenses and microphones sticking out, circling in on a person with a title.
In this case however, I had to elbow and push while trying to keep balance, standing on the rubble of the completely destroyed apartment, all the while, ZAKA volunteers were asking people to watch their step as they were still collecting remains. I don’t know what I was stepping on while I was getting those shots and quotes.
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I’m not sure I was able to portray what I saw that day in the video above. Sticking my camera in front of people crying outside the building was not something I could do at that moment. The remains on the ground - how could I put that on film? Yet, those were the things that made it all real; that turned this news story to a real life tragedy unfolding before my eyes.
To get the job done, I found I had to to shut down emotionally. But in the midst of all this ruin and stress, I took a moment to look at the people around me - the journalists, photographers, police spokesmen, and politicians. A brief moment of looking into their eyes gave me strength: everyone there was a human being, and everyone knew that this was not an easy day.
Over the course of the eight days, my general workflow went something like this: I edited most of my videos on the go, taking a break every now and then to run to the nearest secure area at the sound of another siren. I edited from building stairwells, from the backseat of my car, from a hill overlooking the Iron Dome battery, in a deserted mall somewhere in the South, and in a bomb shelter in Beersheba while residents of the area were tucking themselves into their sleeping bags for the night. All the while in the background, the sirens went off, then the explosions were heard, and then the updates came in on the phone: where did the rocket fall? what is the damage? how many injured? If the reports were severe, I would drop whatever I was working on, get in the car and head to the site of impact.
Video: Rocket fire into Israel continues on 5th day of IDF operation on Gaza
I can’t stress enough the significance of the people I worked with. As a first-timer covering wartime, I coped with some difficult situations and this is thanks to my colleagues, Ben and Marc. We managed to get the interesting stories and angles out together while keeping safe, looking out for each other, and staying true to our values both as journalists and as human beings.
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