How Israeli war correspondent Itai Anghel gains trust in hostile countries
Israeli war correspondent and documentary filmmaker Itai Anghel joins the JI podcast for a conversation on his groundbreaking career, Ukraine, ISIS and reporting from enemy states as an Israeli
On this week’s episode of Jewish Insider’s podcast, co-hosts Rich Goldberg and Jarrod Bernstein are joined by Israeli war correspondent and documentary filmmaker Itai Anghel, winner of Israel’s highest journalistic honor, the Sokolow Prize for Print Journalism, and recent Emmy nominee for his film “Last Stop Before Kyiv,” about the war in Ukraine, for a conversation on his groundbreaking career, Ukraine, ISIS and reporting from enemy states as an Israeli.
Below are excerpts of the conversation. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
On becoming a war correspondent: “I did it on my own expense. I took a sleeping bag, I paid for a flight ticket to Austria, I took a train all the way down to Slovenia, and I reached Yugoslavia, then Croatia, then Bosnia. You know, the passion was so, so big. I wanted to be there. I wanted to do it, and if someone told me no, you’re not the one to do it, regardless, I would do it. I didn’t listen to anyone…Each time I went to the field, to a war zone, I realized that I multiplied my knowledge, not by two, not by four, but like by a dozen times. I mean, I am dealing with it, I’m lecturing at universities about world conflicts and about international relations, but once you’re in there, your understanding becomes so much deeper. So that was my decision. You know, as a journalist, this is exactly what I believe in. This is where I want to go.”
On being an Israeli reporting in hostile countries: “Before even doing journalism, I have to break the ice. When you see me in my reports in Syria and Iraq, I was there alone. I give them my camera. ‘Come and have my camera. This is the only thing I have. Please have it. Can you help me? Can you film me inside this situation?’ When I say, ‘Can you help me,’ [what I’m actually] saying to you without saying the words [is], ‘I trust you, you are a good guy.’ And there is nothing that people want to hear, especially in those places, you know, [that have] very notorious reputations like Iraq, like Syria, like Lebanon or Afghanistan, everybody, you know, [is] always suspicious of each other, and I say, ‘I trust you. You’re a great guy, and I’m alone. I have no bodyguards, I have nothing.’ So this is how I make [contacts]. So I need to behave, but I’m thinking all the time, ‘Is someone looking at me with a bad eye? Is someone suspecting me?’ It is torturing my soul, you know, when I go to sleep at night, because while doing it, I’m in sort of a mode.”
Bonus lightning round: Favorite Yiddish word or phrase? “Tuches.” Favorite Jewish food? “My wife, she’s a Jew of Ethiopian origin, and they make injera. This is Ethiopian food, so it’s not like a typical Jewish food, but you know, it’s a typical food for the Jews from Ethiopia. And I love injera.” Favorite wartime correspondent of all time? “I like Bob Simon. I knew Bob Simon because [he] was working also in Israel, and he was someone that I looked [up to] you know. He was a very courageous guy, but he was also very in depth and intelligent.” Favorite place you’ve been out of all of them? “Ukraine became very dear to me, since some of the people I documented, unfortunately, were killed. And now it amounts to eight people, eight people that I got on my camera. And imagine what it does to you. Like I already told myself, maybe the next time I go there, I would not try to be that involved emotionally, because you get to know people, and statistically, they have a big chance for them to die, and then you’re heartbroken and you cannot go on…So Ukraine now is the one that most present in my life.”