'This is the most important documenting I've ever done'

Photojournalist Ziv Koren shows the world what happened on October 7, in new exhibit

The collection of images, many graphic, of people and places since the Hamas onslaught is now showcased at the Peres Center: ‘It’s become a kind of Yad Vashem’

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

IDF Lotar unit soldiers crying on October 10, 2023, at the sight of the Kibbutz Kfar Aza home that still had challah from the family's Shabbat eve meal on the table when it was attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7. (Courtesy Ziv Koren/Polaris)
IDF Lotar unit soldiers crying on October 10, 2023, at the sight of the Kibbutz Kfar Aza home that still had challah from the family's Shabbat eve meal on the table when it was attacked by Hamas terrorists on October 7. (Courtesy Ziv Koren/Polaris)

On the morning of October 7, after waking to sirens signaling rocket attacks from Gaza, photojournalist Ziv Koren drove south on his motorcycle to capture the unfolding horrors of the Hamas massacre.

The scenes he photographed included people shot in their cars, bodies flung outside a bus stop, and the devastating battle at the Sderot police station.

Dozens of those photos, as well as many more from the last eight months, are now exhibited in “October 7th,” on display at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation in Jaffa.

The exhibit spreads throughout the first floor of the innovation center, which — in peacetime — usually aims to show visiting tourist groups Israeli innovations in health care, security, agriculture and technology.

Now, visitors entering the building are greeted with a wall-sized slideshow of some of Koren’s most graphic images from October 7 and the first few days after the attack, which killed some 1,200 people and saw 251 taken hostage, about half of whom still remain in Gaza.

“I keep on taking pictures,” said Koren, 53, a longtime independent photojournalist who was chain-smoking while being interviewed outside the Peres Center overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.

Koren described feeling obligated to keep on capturing images of Israelis in the months since October 7, and sharing those images with the world.

Photojournalist Ziv Koren has been documenting the people and events in Israel since the October 7, 2023, Hamas attack, with an exhibit held at the Peres Center from June through October 7, 2024 (Courtesy)

He has spent the last eight months embedded with IDF troops in Gaza, photographing the destruction in the kibbutz communities, and capturing images of the injured and their rehabilitation.

Some of the individuals have stayed with Koren, and he has continued to follow their stories. These include released hostage Mia Schem, with Koren following the surgery she underwent on her return to Israel, her hospital recuperation and eventual return to her hometown of Shoham.

Koren also returned again and again to capture images of Gali Segel and Ben Benjamin, a couple who each lost their right leg during their harrowing escape from the Supernova desert rave, and are getting married in a few weeks.

He has also closely followed the Golan family — Ellay, Ariel and their toddler daughter Yael — who were severely burned during the Hamas attack on their home in Kibbutz Kfar Aza.

“This is my version of Israeli public diplomacy,” said Koren. “People need to be educated about what happened here.”

In another gallery half a dozen standing screens each show around 100 photos dealing with a single topic: the army operating in Gaza, the destruction of October 7, injured victims undergoing rehabilitation.

Orit Gutkind and her three children take cover on the road between Ness Ziona and Rehovot as a missile warning siren goes off on October 13, 2023. (Courtesy Ziv Koren/Polaris)

On the walls of another gallery are photos focused on the hostages taken by Hamas — some showing the protests for the hostages’ release, others IDF soldiers scouring the Gaza tunnels in search of signs of them.

In total, the exhibit displays hundreds of images, chosen from more than 300,000 photos that Koren has taken over the last eight months.

“The idea is not to separate the war from the hostages,” said Koren, who is donating all proceeds from the exhibit and its accompanying book to the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. “It’s a narrative that tells the story, so we shouldn’t forget why the soldiers are in those tunnels.”

At the very end of the final gallery is one enlarged image comprising four photos of bodies of people who were killed on October 7. The families of those victims permitted Koren to display the images of their loved ones.

When he was interviewed by The Times of Israel this month, Koren was about to meet and guide the family of a young man who had been trying to escape in his car from the Supernova desert rave but was shot and killed by terrorists. His body was left on the side of the road alongside a friend, who was also dead.

The IDF Jerusalem Brigade operating in the eastern part of the Gaza Strip, where troops discovered a Hamas tunnel shaft on November 13, 2023, which they blocked by blowing up the entrance. (Courtesy Ziv Koren/Polaris)

“I’ve seen other terrible things in my life, but I think this is the most important documenting I’ve ever done,” said Koren. “I can’t disappear and walk away from 1,300 Israelis who were killed in their beds and cars and homes. We’re in an event, the most difficult and horrible since the Holocaust.”

Koren hadn’t planned on putting together an exhibit, but after receiving requests from several Israeli embassies in Europe to use his photos, he saw it was important to share the images internationally.

“You want people to understand, you want generations to come to see this,” he said.

He felt similarly when the Peres Center staff asked to put together an exhibit that would be open to the public.

“People can access the photos here. It’s become a kind of Yad Vashem,” said Koren, likening his exhibit to the national Holocaust museum in Jerusalem. “People want to come and identify and go through an emotional process here. We have this natural tendency to push all this aside and just focus on the latest news of the hour… but when you come here and see a timeline of what happened, it’s shocking and we’re still in it.”

Hostage families and others protest in Tel Aviv for the return of the Gaza hostages in March 2024. (Courtesy Ziv Koren/Polaris)

Koren has been ceaselessly documenting the unfolding horrors for months.

There are days in which he begins working in the south, photographing soldiers or people in the kibbutzim, and then gets back on his motorcycle, heading north to Tel Aviv to capture images of the hostage families protesting vociferously outside the Defense Ministry in the evening.

He knows he’s obsessed but doesn’t plan on stopping, particularly when he feels connected to a particular story.

“I’m looking for the meaningful stories that have added value,” he said. “I went to my parents for Seder night on Passover and I just couldn’t stay, and went to Hostages Square,” where hundreds of members of Kibbutz Be’eri were holding a Passover Seder together. “You see there’s a story here of the families which has become a huge story of bereavement and pain. I’m in, I’m there.”

The “October 7th” exhibit at the Peres Center will remain in place until at least October 7, 2024, to mark one year since the Hamas onslaught.

“I keep on taking pictures,” he said. “I can always add more.”

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