Bodies often litter the sidewalks and blood flows in the streets. Ambulance sirens pierce the night, along with the screams and cries of women and children.
If it’s human nature to run away from this type of sorrow and destruction, then call Etgar Lefkovits unnatural.
His job is to head straight for it.
“Journalists, like police and rescue officials, are doing the opposite,” said Lefkovits, a reporter for the Jerusalem Post in Israel. “We are running toward the carnage.”
The Jerusalem correspondent was in the Lory Student Center on Tuesday night where he shared his experiences covering suicide bombings in Israel to a packed crowd of about 80 community members.
The Chicago native touched on Israeli politics, Iran’s increasing involvement in Palestinian affairs, and a recent controversy surrounding Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. But he zeroed in on the intricacies and delicate nature of covering suicide bombings.
“In my mind, in order to properly cover a bombing, you have to speak to the people wounded in the attack,” he said.
The University of Chicago graduate told the group that it’s their stories and the details of their lives that make every story unique.
The city is home to the second most number of foreign correspondents in the world, lagging only to Washington, D.C. So when there’s a suicide attack in the city, hundreds of reporters are on it. But not all of them always scope out the scene – and that’s a reporting flaw, he says.
Office reporting churns out formulaic stories: “X amount of people killed, Y amount wounded.Palestinian reaction, Israeli reaction, (throw in) a few quotes,” he said.
“What’s lost in this is that human lives have been changed forever.”
Tales of human interest and fate – the missed bus that would explode or family members racing through hospital wards desperately scouting out loved ones – may be derided by some as sensational, but those are what make the story real, he said.
He also spoke about the Israeli resolve in dealing with suicide attacks.
Bombs packed with ball bearings, studs and nails rip apart complexes and tear up entire landscapes. But Lefkovits said it was fascinating watching the swiftness of the Israeli clean-up response. Within hours of a bombing, only memorial candles and bouquets of flowers indicate the puncturing of serenity of the explosion.
“It’s part and parcel of the determination of the society not to let the terrorists win,” he said.
Hedy Berman, director of Hillel at CSU, said the Lefkovits trip was sponsored to speak by the student groups Hillel and Cultural and Historical Awareness of Israel, along with the Israeli Consulate in Lost Angeles.
Lefkovits is in America for 10 days.
“It was really important to hear a first-person point of view from someone who’s been on scene,” said Hannah Berkowitz, a junior apparel design major and event organizer. “There was optimism in his voice even though he was talking about suicide bombings.”
In addition to suicide bombings, Lefkovits spoke about the controversy surrounding the Temple Mount, a story he broke last year.
Jerusalem’s Temple Mount is Israel’s most holy site and Islam’s third. For centuries, a delicate balance has existed – Islamic trusts are responsible for administering the site while Israel is responsible for security.
Recently, a bulge in southern wall of the sacred site was spotted. The question of what do about it became “The Battle of the Bulge,” Lefkovits said.
Israeli archaeologists wanted to fix it, but the Islamic trusts didn’t want non-Muslims to.
For two years this went on, until Lefkovits reported on the front page of the Jerusalem Post one day that an Israeli official was concerned the bulge was getting so bad that worshippers were in danger from the unsafe wall.
This catastrophic warning finally led to a compromise: Jordan, the mount’s custodial country, would send engineers to survey and repair the site.
It was a simple solution that no one could oppose. And it didn’t happen sooner because the two sides were distrustful of each other and didn’t want to negotiate in good faith.
Lefkovits said the fight over the Temple Mount was a microcosm of the entire Israeli-Palestinian conflict: “It took the warning of dire consequences to spur the two sides to an agreement.”
Managing Editor Vimal Patel can be reached at email@example.com.