Saturday, December 09, 2006

Narrating the Israel-Hizbullah War in Pictures

Haifa, Summer 2006 (Photo: Süddeutsche Zeitung, AP)

The New Year is approaching, which means that newspapers are starting to run their "Year in Review" pieces for 2006. I couldn't help notice a photo essay that the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Germany's best left-of-center daily, is running on the war in Lebanon, which along with Iraq and Angela Merkel, Germany's new chancellor, topped the list for biggest stories of the year. (As a side note, the pictures of Merkel with various heads-of-state, Bush, Putin, Blair, and Chirac, are absolutely hilarious and strangely sexualized; naughty editors...)

Most of the 28 images of the war in Lebanon depict the destruction and suffering of Lebanese civilians, and rightly so. What troubled me, however, was the virtual absence of any depiction of the experience in northern Israel during those terrible months of July and August. We are shown only two pictures taken within Israel itself. The first is one of those photographs of smiling children signing Israeli rockets (see John's analysis from July), which will, unfortunately, likely remain in the collective visual memory for a long time to come. The caption reads, "While in Israel, girls write messages to Hizbullah on rockets..." The second picture shows the sidewalk in front of a shattered Haifa storefront that has been cordoned off with red caution tape. The ground is splattered with some fresh blood, but it's unclear whether someone had actually died there, or "merely" been injured by the rocket that supposedly hit the store. The caption says, in characteristically pithy understatement, "Hizbullah rockets also took their toll of victims in Israel." But the victims are almost ghost-like, with no human face. The (in)human face of Israel shown to and remembered by the world is instead the smiling children who happily sent off rockets to destroy the children of Lebanon.

With the end of hostilities, the "war of public relations" becomes the war of historical representation. If this early historical narrative by the Süddeutsche Zeitung is any indication, most people in the West will be unable to remember (if they ever knew to begin with) the terror of the Hizbullah rockets documented by our Haifa resident-correspondent, Carmia, in this blog's archives. The overwhelming, and what is looking like the excessive, destruction of Beirut can be evaluated only in the context of this terror, which many have been loath to depict.

1 comment:

Amos said...

Thanks for another great post, Noah. I agree with your comments about the slideshow. This might be nitpicking, but there was one picture from the Beirut airport with the caption "Der Flughafen von Beirut wurde von den Israelis völlig zerstört," [The airport was completely destroyed by the Israelis.] As far as I know, that is simply not true. Overall though, they at least tried to give an appearance of being balanced, I think. It would be interesting to do a longer analysis of the captions. I think they perfectly capture the ideological consensus in Germany today - and I am not saying that to denigrate the Germans. I wish I could be more specific. There was something about captions like this one: "Hisbollah-Führer Scheich Hassan Nasrallah schürte den Hass..." and this one: "UN-Generalsekretär Kofi Annan forderte am 20. Juli ein Ende der Kämpfe. Israel wies Annans Vorwurf der überzogenen Gewalt jedoch zurück. Zahlreiche Opfer waren - wie in jedem Krieg - Kinder" that I found very characteristic of the discourse there.