Social Networking Web Site Links Israeli, Gaza Journalists During Wartime

With foreign journalists banned from Gaza during IDF offensive, Web site serves as central communication tool.

The Gaza Strip may have been closed to coverage by Israeli and foreign media representatives but the connections between them and their colleagues in the Gaza Strip have not been severed. In recent weeks, the social networking site Frames of Reality - whose members are mainly photographers from both sides - turned into a central and important means of communication.

With the use of the site, the photographers have been exchanging pictures that they shot over the past three weeks, each photographer in his or her close surroundings, and discussing professional matters against the background of the military campaign.

Frames of Reality was established by the Peres Center for Peace and "Edut Mekomit" ("Local testimony") - the annual photojournalism exhibition of the Israeli media - some eight months ago. "There were mutual workshops for Israeli and Palestinian photographers that were supposed to take place at the Hadassah College in Jerusalem," said Yossi Nahmias, the curator of the exhibit and the coordinator of the site. "Due to problems with freedom of movement, we had to move the workshop to Beit Jallah and simultaneously, we created the network in order to bridge time gaps between the various meetings and to make it possible for the participants to keep up ties between the meetings. In the end, it developed way beyond that."

At present, the site boasts some 400 registered members, including journalists and students of photography. The network got its big break three weeks ago when the fighting began in Gaza.

"It started when everyone began putting up works they had done," the photographer Tess Scheflan related. "Now it provides an opportunity to see things that we would not be exposed to. I, for one, am following a young photographer from Gaza who posts her works daily and these are things we are not exposed to. I too post materials that I think the other side is not exposed to."

A visit to the site shows the documentation of local daily routine and life in the shadow of bombs. On the face of it, it seems that the photographers from both sides prefer to spare people the sight of graphic and bloody pictures and prefer those in which one can learn about civilian life on both sides.

"Until two years ago, I would go to Gaza but then they forbade photographers who had dual [Israeli and foreign] citizenship from going there," said photographer and journalist Kika Kirshenbaum, who works for media outlets in South America. "The network gives me the opportunity to continue my ties with Gaza. During the entire campaign, I was in touch with friends in the Gaza Strip, and the site is a place where we can hold a discussion with respect for each other and without getting worked up. Now this site has become even more important."

On the other side too, it transpires, the connection has been useful during the fighting. "We don't have any ties with people outside the Strip and certainly not with Israelis," said photographer Iman Mohammed, who lives in Gaza. "I am almost the only woman photographer and journalist in Gaza. In Israel it is routine to see women working in journalism and it is important for me to hear what my colleagues are thinking, it broadens my horizons. The war started and suddenly we found ourselves standing on opposite sides but we are not enemies. We can understand one another."