They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and as we all know it’s one of the most powerful tools in shaping the world’s opinion. Take a look at this photo album of Gaza schools after operation Protective Edge which found its way to my Facebook feed. Over 100,000 people liked it and over 70,000 shared it. One photo caught my attention in particular:
If you ask me before you fix that hole in the wall something needs to be done about the curriculum of Gaza schools. There’s a direct link between what’s being taught in those schools and why they look like this now, but let’s leave that aside for a minute because this is a very powerful photo yet it raises many questions.
I have studied photography professionally and this photo is what’s known as a perfectly calculated frame. This photo was taken with a professional camera with a wide-angel lens and the man or woman operating it knew exactly what they were doing:
- The frame is well balanced and divided according to the rule of thirds. The hole in the wall is at the upper-right intersection point and is balance by the girl in the lower left intersection point. There are no rough cuts and the photographer managed to keep the left window entirely within the frame.
- The front desk in the center is conveniently empty. That helps maintaining the balance and enables us to see the teacher in the background with no interference. You might say this is the teacher’s desk but it’s facing the wrong way. This could be a coincidence or the people in the photo were willing to cooperate with the photographer. Either way it’s still fair play.
- The teacher stands in the distant corner, creating an imaginary line between the girls and the hole and guiding the viewer’s eye directly to it instead of blocking it. I worked as a teacher for several years and usually I found myself standing in the corner when I let students copy of the board. The board in this classroom is clearly useless and there’s nothing written on it anyway (plus it seems the girls don’t have any school supplies) so there’s no reason for her to stand there. She was probably asked to do that – still completely kosher (or Halal).
All this is quite common. What really got me thinking was the hole in the wall. How did it get there? Clearly it is not the result of an airstrike or artillery shelling coming from above. Could it be that somehow a tank fired right through the window and hit that wall? I am no demolition expert but something tells me the room would have looked totally different if that unlikely scenario had happened. Here is a photo of wall hit by a tank (taken from this clip).
The small holes on the walls and ceiling indicate gunfire so maybe there was a battle between IDF ground forces and Hamas militants. Grenades aren’t powerful enough to create this kind of damage but another option is that someone may have set an explosive charge and attached it onto the wall. But if that was the case then why place the charge so high, especially when there’s a shelf at the standard height which would have made the hole more practical for mobility and cover purposes. It is also worth noting that the center of this hole is where an average height man would hit the wall with a sledge-hammer and then work his to expand it into a circle.
There’s no way of telling what exactly happened in that classroom but one thing is clear. This school was involved in the fight against Israel, both in the ground war and in the PR which now follows.
I took a close look at other photos in that album, trying to see if they could shed more light on what happened. I found this photo which is very similar but apparently taken in a different school.
The girl in that photo points at the word ‘Hamas’. While this is certainly not a clue of any sort, it sure is a painfully symbolic finger pointing.
And before I sign off, there’s one more thing I want to show you. A few years ago, while I was studying Chinese in Tsinghua University in Beijing, one of my teachers showed us a presentation about a school in rural China. Here are some photos from that presentation. Just put in perspective what an actual school in need really looks like and how hard it is to get clean and sterile frames like we have just seen in the photos above, especially around children.
Some children in China even have to carry their desks to school.