Correction appended, July, 22.
Italian photographer Alessio Romenzi harbors no illusions that his images of dead civilians—many of them children—caught in the crossfire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip will have an impact on the conflict. But he can’t stay away from the story.
Romenzi, 40, has lived for the last five years between Israel and Palestine. In 2012, he documented Gaza during the Israeli Defense Forces’ “Operation Pillar of Defense,” which ended after just eight days.
This year, as Israel enters the third week of “Operation Protective Edge,” Romenzi doesn’t see a way out of the conflict. “I don’t think the different sides know how to get out of this situation,” he told TIME in a phone interview. “I can see that both sides are very determined to keep on fighting.”
According to U.N. figures, 479 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed since July 8. The U.N. says that 121 Palestinian children have been killed. Since the murder of three Israeli teenagers – which, along with the killing of a Palestinian teen, partly led to the start of the war – no further Israeli children have died in the fighting. Doctors say armed operations – from Israel Defense Forces airstrikes to Hamas rocket attacks – have traumatized a large number of children on both sides of Gaza’s borders. Critics of Israel say its military is killing too many civilians in its war against Hamas. The Israeli military says it does everything it can to avoid killing civilians and claims Hamas members deliberately seek shelter in civilian homes, putting those civilians in harm’s way.
“It’s a common theme to all wars,” Romenzi says. “You have two sides, and civilians—people who are guilty of nothing—are caught in the middle. Sometimes people die because they were at the wrong place at the wrong moment. They were near a target. But nobody knows exactly where these target are and why they are targets.”
Romenzi is used to covering conflicts—he was in Syria in 2012 and in Libya the year before. Each time, he deliberately chose to focus on civilian victims. “Children should never be touched by war,” he says. “But here . . . a very high percentage of victims are children.” And while his images can be tough on viewers, Romenzi doubts his work will have any short-term effect on public opinion. “[Every] day, people stop me and ask me why the world is not intervening to stop [what's going on]. They ask me why all these children, all these innocents, are going through all of this once again. I don’t think the world is prepared to do anything. There’s been a lot of talk, a lot of [outrage], but there’s nothing happening on the ground.”
The problem, Romenzi tells TIME, is that these images of dead kids are not effective anymore. “We’ve seen them before and we are again in the same situation,” he says. But he takes comfort in the thought that his work will be remembered later on. “We, photographers, are doing this for the future.”
Correction: The original version of this story misstated the number of casualties in the Gaza conflict. According to official U.N. figures, 479 Palestinians and 27 Israelis have been killed since July 8.
Alessio Romenzi is an editorial, corporate and portrait photographer whose work has appeared in TIME, Newsweek, the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune, among others. See his earlier work ‘Syria Under Siege‘ on LightBox.