Basel Al Yazouri is a photographer and a member of Activestills photography collective.
This piece is from Activestills’ new book Photography as Protest in Palestine/Israel. Basel Al Yazouri, Anne Paq and Oren Ziv will discuss Activestills book and work at the Jewish Voice for Peace, National Member Meeting in Chicago, more details at the bottom.
Learning to Photograph while Running
The 2014 Israeli war on Gaza was my first intense photographic experience. I used to cover day-to-day life before the attack and then, when it came, I had to be in the field—not only to support other photographers, but also as a professional. For me, it was also to help people, not just to get the word out. On the photography side, it was extremely hard in the beginning. I had to learn on the fly.
Sometimes you have to decide whether to take the photo or run for your life. The first day of the attack I went to Shujaiyeh [one of the worst-hit areas during the war]. There was a bombing near the cemetery while people were burying martyrs. Fifty meters from us missiles were falling. I just ran, without taking any photos. Later on, I got used to it and learned to take photos while running.
My work was different from Anne’s [Activestills’ Anne Paq], because I was in situations where the photography wasn’t the first priority for me. For example, the place I love the most in Gaza, Khuza’a, was totally destroyed. I used to go there before the war to chill out—it was an open space, full of farms and trees. During the attack you couldn’t even see it because the army had erected hills of sand around it. The first time I went there, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The amount of destruction was unimaginable. The family of a very good friend of mine lives there. So the first thing I did was to run to check on their house. Only then did I pick the camera back up.
During these months I realized that living through the war as a normal person, like I did in 2009 and 2012, makes you feel more afraid than being out in the field with your camera. We have a saying here in Gaza, “Come to the bombing; don’t let the bombing come to you.” It is much harder to sit inside and hear the bombs falling around.
When it was over, it felt like waking up from a dream. The brain is unable to translate such a tragedy. There are many things that I have forgotten, but there are moments that are carved in my memory in the form of a photograph. Like one of a woman sitting by her injured child at Al-Shifa hospital. They had just survived a bombing in which Israeli missiles, containing nails that spread everywhere, left an entire street in ruins.
After the ceasefire, Anne and I went to cover areas we couldn’t reach before, like Beit Hanoun, Rafah, and many others. Then the real shock hits you, when you start walking in the streets and see all the rubble and ruins.
Together with Anne, I tried to focus on people who didn’t get any help. There are still massive numbers of people who don’t receive any kind of aid. The most difficult thing is realizing that however harrowing the story you’re covering is, the one you will work on tomorrow will be even worse.
For more photo from Basel – https://flickr.com/photos/94118189@N06/sets/72157671878247035
Activestills – website
And please come and hear Basel, Anne and Oren talk at the JVP National Member Meeting.
Activestills Collective – 12 years documenting the Social Justice struggles in Israel and Palestine. Saturday April 1st from 4:00pm till 5:30pm.