Analysis: Powerful images: Pictures from the front line

"Words alone cannot adequately explain what we saw."

Gallery: The best photos from the war in Lebanon
During Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign in 1984, CBS White House correspondent Leslie Stahl produced a highly critical piece on the president's first term. But because CBS had no access to personal interviews, all the visuals were from the campaign events featuring Reagan with children and soldiers, flags and balloons. A day later, Reagan's spin doctor Michael Deever called Stahl. "Thanks for that great piece last night," he said. "I'm surprised you liked it," she said. "It was so tough." To which Deever replied: "Well, people don't remember the words. They just remember the pictures." Now that Israel's war against Hizbullah seems to be over, what pictures will the world remember, and which will remain in our minds here in Israel? The answers may reflect what role the media have played in this conflict. The international press ran the story on its front pages for over a month, with images of death and destruction in both Lebanon and Israel. Although studies have not yet been published, it is clear which pictures were more prominent: those taken by photographers in Lebanon and especially in Beirut, sometimes just a stone's throw away from the action. Every time an Israeli air strike targeted the Lebanese capital, the press corps rushed to the scene, many journalists straight from their hotel, and it was all there: blood, body parts, wounded civilians, screaming residents, destroyed buildings and rubble. Even so, a Reuters photographer apparently doctored photographs to make the destruction appear even worse. But why distort the picture if your cause is just? Isn't the reality bad enough? Bloggers also noticed that a Lebanese woman made two appearances over a period of two weeks in photographs used by the Associated Press and Reuters, reportedly wailing over the destruction of her Beirut home. Which brings us to what might turn out to be the picture of this war, at least from the Lebanese side: Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora breaking down and weeping before colleagues at an Arab summit in Beirut. It was one of those dramatic moments that would later be broadcast around the world. To be generous, Saniora may have been crying not only for himself, but on behalf of his people as well. It was also in that speech, though, that Saniora lamented the "massacre at Houla village" where, he declared, an Israeli air strike had just killed 40 people. He was forced to retract his remark later in the day, after Al Jazeera of all stations reported that only one person had died in the attack. It was reminiscent of last month's Kafr Kana air strike, after which headlines all over the world screamed bloody murder, declaring the deaths of 57 innocent civilians, many of them children. It emerged a week later that 28 people had died in Kana, and there were claims that Hizbullah may have staged the whole tragic episode. One could not help but also recall the photograph of Muhammad al-Dura, the Palestinian boy killed in his father's arms after being caught in the crossfire between IDF troops and Palestinian gunmen in Gaza - which came to symbolize the second intifada in the eyes of the world. It did not matter that years later, an outside investigation found that Palestinian fire probably killed the boy; the damage had been done. Over the period of the war, The Jerusalem Post chose to run pictures of the extensive Hizbullah rocket damage in northern Israel, but refrained from offending its readers with bloody scenes. Not so the Arab press, which daily published horrific photographs of mutilated bodies (often labeled with graphic warnings on wire service sites). It is not difficult to imagine what devastating effects these images must have had on Arab readers. An e-mail from the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center after its solidarity visit to northern Israel read as follows: "Words alone cannot adequately explain what we saw.... The mother standing over her wounded son in Tel Hashomer Hospital, her eyes unable to hide the fear that her son may have come home from Lebanon alive, but the shrapnel that cut through his spine may never allow him to walk again." So what images are conjured up now as we look back on the war? Scenes of rocket attacks, families in shelters, families at funerals, soldiers fighting, soldiers in hospitals, or the faces of the victims and their loved ones? Perhaps if we jog our memories enough, we can remember as far back as July 12, and the smoky aftermath of the Hizbullah ambush in which two soldiers named Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were abducted, triggering the war. Among the most horrifying pictures was no doubt that bloody Sunday scene near Kfar Giladi, where soldiers collected the remains of a dozen reservists killed there by a Katyusha rocket. But for those reading the Hebrew papers, the most powerful photograph of the war may very well have been that of an IDF company commander, Maj. Tomer Buhadana, taken to hospital after being wounded in Lebanon toward the end of the war. As the hand of a medic stopped the blood from pouring out of his neck, he managed to flash a victory sign with his own hand. The picture seemed somehow to symbolize Israel's claim of victory over terror despite its severe battle wounds.