Yoav Galai documented the Israel-Lebanon war in the summer of 2006 as the only embedded photographer. No other Israeli photojournalist wanted the job. And when Galai returned with graphic images and an ignominious tale, no Israeli newspaper wanted to see or hear what he had to offer.
Unedited and unmitigated, Galai’s gritty photo series is now being displayed at the UCLA Hillel through Dec. 14.
“Under Fire in Lebanon” chronicles the few days Galai spent with an Israeli Defense Forces engineering unit in mid-August. A ceasefire was expected any day, and the unit was one of the last ones to push that far north into Lebanon.
The intrepid 26-year-old trudged through the dusty terrain to the deserted town of Ainata along with the young soldiers and photographed them preparing a bomb-blasted schoolhouse for incoming wounded soldiers.
Minutes later, they themselves became the wounded, a medic suffering some of the worst injuries. The unit commander called for an immediate airborne evacuation of the eight wounded soldiers, but the rest stayed behind, close to their tanks and guns.
Galai continued to focus his lens, through the chaos, the danger and the innate feeling of intrusion he had for photographing a seriously injured man as he drifted in and out of consciousness.
Two days later, a ceasefire was announced. Months later, Galai and the men he accompanied were informed that they had not been hit by Hezbollah. They had been hit by Israeli tank fire.
The responsible soldier came forward, apologized and requested to meet the engineering unit he had so critically injured. As of last week, when I met Yoav Galai at the opening of his exhibit, none of the men had agreed to meet the man.
“We don’t blame him. We have no anger,” said Galai, who keeps in touch with the soldiers. “I’m sure he feels worse - much worse - about the incident than any of us do.”
A caption in Galai’s book, which shares its title with the exhibit, sums up the fate of the soldiers.
“All of the soldiers injured during the making of this essay are alive and not so well.”