Allison Kaplan Sommer, haaretz.com
Image from article, with caption: Nashat Melhem, killed in firefight with security forces outside his hideout in hometown Arara, January 8, 2016
Showing gory images of dead terrorists may risk desensitizing us, but perhaps we need to see blood and corpses around us to understand that something is not right in our world.
Here in Israel, there was a massive public outcry in 2011 when Minister of Public Diplomacy Yuli Edelstein decided to distribute graphic photographs of the stabbed and bleeding bodies of the murdered Fogel family in the settlement of Itamar to the national and international media — with the permission of their relatives. Most news organizations refused to publish the images and there was massive protest against the decision to release photographs of murdered children. My colleague Anshel Pfeffer wrote at the time that “Edelstein hopes the world will see the images from Itamar and blame the entire Palestinian nation by proxy — but in truth, he is belittling and trivializing this terrible murder.”
This is not a concern when we are talking about photos of the bodies of murderers and terrorists. The general public sentiment is that they deserve this indignity and that those who have suffered from their actions or lived in fear because of them have a right to see proof they are gone.
The reasons for showing the photo were clear — yet their constant presence on my screens still felt unhealthy and bloodthirsty, and instinctively I would reach for the off switch or look away. It reminded me somewhat of the times that Saddam Hussein’s body in his death shroud and Muammar Qaddafi's scarred and beaten corpse were published for similar purposes — to offer their victims a tangible, visible resolution to their stories, as well as confirm their deaths beyond a doubt — and yet, looking at them felt gratuitous and voyeuristic. For every gory image we view — as individuals, and a society — we pay a price by becoming increasingly immune to them. In the United States the mainstream press usually avoids such images. The photo of the San Bernadino shooter Syed Farooq lying dead in handcuffs, for example, is only available on a tabloid website — and even then, with a warning.
And yet, there is an argument to be made for forcing us to confront what is happening around us in Israel today, with attempted stabbings, shootings and car attacks becoming nearly a daily occurrence. Over the past four months, there have been countless incidents in which the Israeli public hasn’t been forced to confront any images at all. We have become used to glancing at our smartphones to find a quick news brief reporting that yet another young Palestinian attempted to stab an Israeli and was “neutralized” (often with little clarification as to whether they were captured or killed) and then going about our business.
Perhaps we need to see blood and corpses around us to understand that something is not right — and disturbing images have a rightful place in an increasingly disturbing world.