I want to leave before it gets any darker, but a taxi stops in front of the emergency room and a Hamas fighter steps out. Finally, I’m seeing a fighter. In the emergency room, he asks to have shrapnel removed from his leg quickly, so that he can get back to the battle.
“How were you injured?” I ask.
“I fired a rocket and ran away,” he says.
I step away. A young man’s body is on the floor, his brains seeping out. A mother tries to calm her daughter, who is screaming from the pain of having shrapnel removed. A baby cries nonstop. A woman wails at the loss of her Ukrainian neighbor, and curses Israel. A doctor weeps at the loss of his Ukrainian wife and his son. There was fighting near where they all live.
The fighter asks again for quick treatment; the doctors check him out and tell him to wait, his wound isn’t serious. He lies down on a bed. The screams of agony and pain are nonstop, but the fighter is smiling.
“How can you smile when all this pain is around you?” I ask.
“Why are they crying?” he says. “They are martyrs. They should be happy. I want to be a martyr, too.”
The war is over, and finally the Samouni family can retrieve and bury twenty-nine relatives from the wreckage of their home. I am in the Zeitoun neighborhood on a sunny day, heading toward what’s left of their house.
A horse cart rolls by; a man is driving and two women walk behind—an old one who shows her face and a young one who is wearing the niqab. All you can see is her eyes.
“What’s in there?” I ask.
“We are pulling out the bodies,” the man replies. “I just pulled out my grandmother.”
The body is wrapped in a blanket. The old woman opens the blanket. The smell is strong; I am about to vomit. The young woman screams: “How dare you be disgusted! This is the smell of paradise. It’s too sweet.” And then: “Don’t talk to her. She is not Muslim.”
The man wants to continue talking, but the old woman stops him, and he drives on. I go further and find the young woman’s brother sitting in shock beside the ruins of his house. While he is talking to me, the young woman comes running back. Her brother stops her. I tell her that it’s okay, I understand.
I apologize to the brother and keep moving toward the Samouni family, to witness the last chapter of their misery. Dead women, children, and men are being pulled out of the rubble, and the smell is extremely strong. It’s definitely not sweet. It’s the smell of death that has no logic.
In addition to this report from inside Gaza, the Columbia Journalism Review is offering two additional perspectives on the coverage of the fighting in Gaza. J.J. Goldberg, former editor of The Forward, compares the reporting on alleged brutalities against civilians in the U.S. press and the British press, and how this illuminates the different cultural pressures in the two countries when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians. And Lisa Goldman, writing from Israel, explains how the fighting was covered in that country, and how the militant mood of the Israeli press matched and fed the mood of the people there. Both articles are in the May/June 2009 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review. All three pieces in this special package were supported by a grant from the Open Society Institute, for which we are deeply grateful.