By Guillaume Bonnet

Covering a conflict like the one that has just ravaged the Gaza Strip for eight days confronts a journalist with the terrible spectacle of dozens of corpses, of both adults and children, which are frequently displayed by their families in a hellish atmosphere fraught with tension and emotion. The Palestinians revere their fallen as martyrs, whom they call “shahid”. The corpses are always visible during funerals, held aloft by crowds as they are paraded through the streets. 

Palestinian mourners pray over the body of 18-month-old Eyad Abu Khosa, killed in Israeli airstrikes, during his funeral in the Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza Strip on November 18, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Mahmud Hams

During my assignment in Gaza, I was spared from seeing more than a few dead children’s bodies. But I nonetheless witnessed a number of very gruesome scenes. On Tuesday (November 20), two journalists from the Hamas TV station were killed by an Israeli bombardment. After filming their car, which had been totally incinerated, I rushed to the morgue at the hospital with AFP photographer Marco Longari to see if I could photograph the bodies that had been pulled from the vehicle.

There was a terrible crush of people at the hospital, which was widely perceived as a safe haven from attacks. Many international TV channels had set up cameras for live reports. Going into the hospital, we stumbled immediately upon two corpses in a pool of blood. They were two Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel who had been killed and dragged through the streets of Gaza. It was a horrible sight. I chose not to film it, but my colleague Marco took this image.

Blood leaks from under the door of the al-Shifa hospital morgue in Gaza City on November 20, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Marco Longari

I always ask myself whether or not I should film corpses. In the Gaza morgue, the bodies were laid out on metal tables. Everyone seemed to find it perfectly normal that the media were present, with journalists free to film or photograph the bodies, sometimes from just a few centimetres away. It wasn’t my first assignment in Gaza. I’d come several times before, about a decade ago. It was the same then.

Relatives of 10-month-old Palestinian girl, Hanen Tafesh, killed the day before in an Israeli air strike, mourn over her body before her funeral in Gaza City, on November 16, 2012.
AFP PHOTO/Marco Longari

In the heat of the moment, one is caught up in the action. Behind the camera, it’s as though there’s a screen between the journalist and death, both literally and figuratively. The camera acts as a shield against feeling.

It’s only later, when I think back to what I saw, that the images really hit me. A father or mother cradling a child’s body after pulling it from a pile of rubble – that’s the hardest.

Palestinian relatives mourn over the body of Hanen Tafesh, a 10-month-old girl, at the morgue of the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, on November 15, 2012, after she died following an Israeli air strike in the Zeitun neighbourhood.
AFP PHOTO/Mahmud Hams
Interview by Roland de Courson