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Israeli photojournalist discusses “Shooting Under Fire”

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By Brandon Phillips

Senior Staff Writer


Nov 11, 2014

   The University at Albany group Great Danes For Israel held an open lecture and film screening presented by a photojournalist on Monday, Nov. 3 in Campus Center room 375.

   Israeli ex-Reuters photographer Gil Cohen-Magen lead the presentation beginning with a brief showing of “Shooting Under Fire,” directed by Sacha Mirzoeff and Bettina Borgfeld, following  German photographer Reinhard Krause, head of the Israeli photo bureau for Reuters in Jerusalem. The documentary follows Krause through his everyday job of documenting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict featuring other Reuters photographers like Cohen-Magen. The film looks at the ethical dilemmas faced by a photojournalist tasked with documenting gruesome scenes and pushing deadlines for publication and Krause’s struggle to document both sides fairly, while dodging the dangers that come with war reporting.

   “Our photographers from both sides are not fanatics. They are journalists and they are professionals. Of course Israeli photographers have a more Israeli view on the story, such as the Palestinians, so everyone is kind of biased. We take positions, but we try to take positions on both sides. I’m trapped in the middle, but in the end, we have to cope with it like rescue workers, or fire fighters. They go to a scene and they have to do their job. For us it is also to show the world what was happening,” Krause said in the documentary.

The Challenge

   “It’s not a regular war,” Cohen-Magen said, “It’s not simple.”

   Israeli and Palestinian lands are divided. People on either side have limited to no access to the other, including press working for international organizations such as Reuters. This means an Israeli photographer cannot cross into Palestinian held land to shoot (pictures) and vise versa. Only foreigners, military personnel and officials can cross these borders. This makes cooperative and balanced reporting difficult, Cohen-Magen said.

   “It’s not fair because Israeli photographers are not allowed inside (Palestinian conflict lands) and so there are no Israeli photographers, so you don’t see the Israeli side of the conflict as much in the media,” Cohen-Magen said.

   There are also Israeli censors on published media documented by Israeli photographers. Cohen-Magen has dealt with Israeli media for over a decade, and doesn’t see this as a roadblock for him. Cohen-Magen has been published in the New York Times, Washington Post and many other large print and online newspapers around the world.

   “I’m Israeli and I know what will pass and what will not,” Cohen-Magen said. He presented an image of the Israeli military searching for body parts of victims after a suicide bombing attack.

   The image showed no gore or blood. The picture made the front page of the New York Times.

   “I waited an extra hour or two hours when all the other photographers left to go print [my pictures],” Cohen-Magen said. “I waited to find another picture, something else.”

   Getting published is extremely competitive in photojournalism, Cohen-Magen said. The opportunity to have your photograph printed means people around the world will see what you captured. That is influential in telling the story, Cohen-Magen said.

   “It’s very important because every picture that gets published gets a lot of influence and can change opinions all around the world.”

   Cohen-Magen thinks about the Israeli families first when he shoots, sometimes waiting up to a full day to send out his images so that Israeli families have time to find out the news before they see their lost family members who have died, even under threat of being fired.

   “I said fire me,” Cohen-Magen said. “I have respect for the Israeli families and so I sometimes waited to print my pictures.”

Behind the Photographer

   Cohen-Magen documents the lives of Orthodox Jews in his spare time as a break from war reporting.

   “People ask me, ‘What are you doing with the Orthodox?’ For me, it is a kind of therapy for me from what I’m doing in Israel everyday,” Cohen-Magen said.

   Cohen-Magen wasn’t always interested in war reporting, saying he found it while training to be a studio photographer.

   “I thought that I would be a studio photographer, do portraits and open up a studio. There was a very famous photographer and I was her assistant for about a year. She said to me, if I wanted to be a photographer and a studio photographer, I needed to start from down. I asked her what was down, and she said to just run everywhere and shoot everything and after when you become famous, then you can open a studio. So I just listened to her, but now I don’t think being a studio photographer is amazing. It’s nice, but it’s not like a photojournalist. Your picture with documentary and photojournalism is more strong, you catch time, you catch the story. Each picture tells a story, and when I chose to go this way, I think it’s the right way for me. This is what I’m doing and I hope to do it until I’m 75.”

The Great Danes for Israel

   Tal Cohen, president of the Great Danes for Israel, invited Gil Cohen-Magen with the help of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting for America (CAMERA), which is a pro-Israel non-profit, media monitoring, advocacy organization. She says her goals of Danes for Israel are about creating and growing from nonpartisan discussion.

   “We are the only non-religious pro Israel group on campus. Part of our effort is to bring unbiased people with first hand experience of the conflict,” Cohen said. “I think that, as Gil spoke about tonight, in order to put these things into a context that everyone can relate to and understand, the main goal is to have an informal discussion on campus about Middle East politics that is contextualized and isn’t radicalized in either direction. It’s very close to my heart as someone who has grown up and tried to find the middle ground because there is no one side to any story.”

   Tal says even though Gil Cohen-Magen is an Israeli photojournalist, he and the Great Danes for Israel are not against the Palestinian people.

   “I hope that as a pro-Israel group on campus people will see that, being ‘pro-Israel’ doesn’t mean you’re ‘anti-Palestinian’, and it doesn’t mean that you are inherently against something else,” Cohen said, “We want to reach out to everyone.”

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