Smile for the camera

They've chased Elton John out of the country, scared Arnold Schwarzenegger and squished the Dalai Lama at the Western Wall. So it's small wonder that Israeli photographers have a bad reputation. Maybe it's because nothing is sacred to them. Menahem Kahana recalls the funeral of a terrorism victim that got out of control. "It was absolutely absurd," he says. "The family had invited the press to cover the funeral, but man, they had no idea what they were in for. Photographers were on all sides of the coffin, pushing and shoving and making the mourners really angry. Suddenly the father stopped the funeral in the middle and told us all to get the hell out. He was yelling, 'Shame on you!' But listen, news photographers aren't passive. They're very aggressive." Indeed. Israeli shutterbugs are gruff even to New Yorker Ricki Rosen's sensibilities. And they save their worst for each other. "People are out of control here," she says. "There have been so many times when I have seen photographers completely missing the shot because they're hitting each other. When Mikhail Gorbachev came here in 1992, he brought Russian photographers who could shoot whenever they wanted, while we Israelis had to wait for a few minimal organized photo opportunities. "At one point we had all been waiting an hour or two, everyone guarding their places," she continues. "Then one photographer popped out into the middle of the scene and blocked all the rest of us. So one of the photographers took a boom microphone from a TV soundman and started banging the first photographer over the head with the boom! The poor soundman, meanwhile, who had his headphones on, was screaming in pain from the sounds of the photographer getting hit over the head with his microphone." Gil Cohen Magen can tell you that Israelis don't care much for cameramen, either. "Oh, wow, the Likudniks during the elections - do you remember, Menahem? 'You're blocking my view!' They don't care that you're from the press. They'll beat you up, man, they'll punch you. They'll scream, 'Get the hell out of here, you liars!'" "That's the difference between Israelis and Palestinians," Kahana answers reflectively. "When you go to a demonstration by Palestinians, all of a sudden you are as welcome as can be. They will open up the morgue refrigerators and take out the dead bodies just to show you what the 'Zionist occupiers' have done to them. There is incredible cooperation with photographers on the part of Palestinians. "But when we arrived to photograph the evacuation at Amona, the Israeli settlers nearly killed us. They slashed my tires. Photographers were injured, some intentionally. The settlers had no desire whatsoever to have their pain shown to others… they wanted no part of us."