We have to admit that we were a bit skeptical when Yahoo! launched its Hot Zone site with the goal of sending intrepid and multi-media reporter Kevin Sites to “cover every armed conflict in the world within one year, and in doing so to provide a clear idea of the combatants, victims, causes, and costs of each of these struggles — and their global impact.” The thought of someone heading off the beaten track from the pack journalism we’ve come to expect sounded exciting — but it also sounded as if Yahoo! and Sites just might be biting off a bit more than they could chew. In the back of our minds, we wondered if we’d end up digesting just one more “Hi, Mom!” exercise in how one Web site integrates video, audio, text and interactive features just because it can.
For a week now, Sites has been in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, a place that can chew up and spit out even the most enlightened of reportorial ambitions. But instead of telling us what we already know, he has done something remarkable, delivering the sort of fresh and insightful human stories from that conflict that we seldom hear. Sites is actually telling us something new.
Here are some of the stories he has been sending back:
Kinneret Boosany, a young Israeli waitress who was severely injured in a suicide bombing at the café where she worked, talks about how she is coping with her scarred body, her anger towards the bomber, and what she calls her “new life.”
Then there is Ali Suleiman, a Palestinian actor who played the part of a suicide bomber in the Oscar-nominated Palestinian film, “Paradise Now.” He tells Sites about life as an Arab living in Israel and the difficulties of filming in Nablus, a city surrounded by the Israeli army.
Sites talked to the gay Israeli writer-director team of Gal Uchovsky and Eytan Fox about the “Israeli victim complex.” He visited with both a Palestinian doctor in Gaza, Dr. Raed Arini, and an Israeli doctor in Jerusalem, Avi Rivkind, who described the physical and psychological toll of the conflict. And there is indeed video and photo essays to go along with all these stories.
Sites is not the first journalist to try to capture the human dimension of the conflict through the stories of individual people. But he may be the first to fully capture and illustrate the level of numbness and exhaustion that has set in among both Israelis and Palestinians from years of fighting. It is easy for reporters to forget that we need to see the people who make up these two societies, to understand how the seemingly endless cycle of violence has affected them.
Whatever else the value of the Kevin Sites’ experiment might be, this week at least he has proven the value of being set free from the need to report what happened yesterday. When that happens, you can take your laptop, digital camera and video and audio recorder to the heart of the matter.