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Kill Zone: Inside Gaza review – heartbreaking human stories within the carnage and chaos
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Kill Zone: Inside Gaza review – heartbreaking human stories within the carnage and chaos

Citizens of the world have not needed regular broadcast media to show them the horror of Israel’s seven-month assault on Gaza. Social media has delivered a stream of clips, almost in real time, each video seemingly more shocking than the last. As if to provide a macabre illustration of the point that traditional television has not kept up, the broadcast on Channel 4 of the Dispatches documentary Kill Zone: Inside Gaza arrived the day after smartphones lit up with footage of an attack on a refugee camp in Rafah, and a picture that might define this shameful episode in human history: against a background of tents on fire, a man holds up the body of an infant, perhaps one or two years old, perhaps younger. It is hard to tell the child’s exact age, since they have no head.

Kill Zone is inevitably a harrowing, heartbreaking programme, made with skill and care by 12 Palestinian film-makers who must have been in grave peril throughout, filming over 200 days in the period following Hamas’s heinous attack on Israeli civilians on 7 October 2023. But what is its role, when pictures that would be deemed unbroadcastable on television are already imprinted on our brains, jabbing at our consciences, flaring in our nightmares?

The most obvious answer is the service it provides to a wider audience who might be less aware of the scale of the devastation, who are on the other side of a widening knowledge gap between the online and not. Here are high-definition shots of entire neighbourhoods destroyed; crisp closeups of tower blocks reduced to twisting, undulating morasses of steel, concrete and bodies; hospital wards overrun with bleeding and broken women and children, beamed on to the big screen in the living room rather than just a device that fits in a pocket. This depiction of the carnage has a rare clarity.

Kill Zone’s real power, however, lies in the ability of an hour-long, professionally made documentary to sift through chaos and find stories. At a certain volume, those viral images of colossal fireballs or feet sticking out of rubble can start to feel unreal. But the narratives that develop here confront us with the loss and suffering of named individuals whose gaze we have met.

Early in the film we meet journalist Hind Khoudary and cameraman Ali Jadallah. Their team’s gallows-humour camaraderie is remarkable: as they face another day, Khoudary asks how their spirits are. “High!” says a voice, as a male colleague smooths his moustache in a parody of someone to whom appearances still matter. Khoudary’s facility for speaking clearly to camera amid scenes of gory bedlam is also impressive, but while covering an influx of patients to al-Shifa hospital she breaks down when a girl is rushed past on a gurney, clutching a teddy bear. Worse is to come when Jadallah’s own family home is hit: he soon finds his brother’s body, but cannot locate his father, and ends up checking the 75 unidentified corpses at al-Shifa to see if his dad is there. He isn’t; he is found dead the next day. Then at the end of Kill Zone, a still photo comes up of the bravely smiling colleague with the moustache. His name was Montaser al-Sawaf, and he was killed in December.

Even more saddening are the experiences of Palestinian children. In Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, we are introduced to the Badwan family, including the sisters Lama and Sama in their cutely matching jumpers and dungarees. The trauma of a generation is there in the moment when they break off from being interviewed because they hear a noise nearby: their faces cloud with fear as they instinctively jam their fingers in their ears. Later on, the Badwan kids are asked what the worst thing about the bombing is. “Our friends died, our neighbours died. Many people we love died,” says one, with the eerie equanimity of a child describing events they are unable to process. “I miss my school friends, the principal and the teacher,” says another Badwan sibling. “I don’t know anything about them now.”

At least the Badwans have their father, Zaid, who was a shopkeeper but now cannot be, to protect them. Inside al-Shifa hospital are the ranks of little humans dubbed WCNSF – Wounded Child, No Surviving Family. What might become of them is a thought too hard to bear.

As for the adults, the British-based reconstructive surgeon Ghassan Abu-Sittah speaks eloquently about how he has attended other conflicts in other countries, but this one is on another level. An elderly Palestinian woman agrees that it is not the same as the previous aerial and ground offensives she has survived. The extent of what has been done to Gaza since October is hard to fathom. Kill Zone brings us closer to grasping it.

Source: theguardian.com