A Gaza photographer in "a place of death"

GAZA, May 14 (Reuters) - When Reuters photographer Ibraheem Abu Mustafa set off to cover the protests in Gaza on Monday morning he came across a wheelchair-bound acquaintance.

“Today, this morning, I said 'Hi' to a man," he recalls. "By the end of the day I was at his funeral.”

Such is the collision of life and work for Abu Mustafa, who has spent nearly half his 35 years as a professional photographer covering a small place like the Gaza Strip. His home. And his subject.

Monday was to be the single deadliest day in Gaza for years, after Israeli gunfire killed more than 50 Palestinians on the penultimate day of a six-week border protest by Gazans demanding the right to return to ancestral homes that now lie on the other side of the Gaza-Israel frontier fence.

"I feel upset over what is happening. At the same time I continue to do my job," said Abu Mustafa.

"So I have to separate my job and my feelings. I cover an event, then I cover a similar event the next day, so I have developed a frame of mind that allows me to cope with the events that are happening, and the circumstances."

The sometimes repetitive nature of the news cycle in Gaza works to his favor. After years of careful observation he has a sense for what will happen, and where it will happen, and where to stand so that he can capture dangerous events, without being caught up in them.

“The moment the tear gas hits, you know there will be a reaction from the protesters," he said.

"Instead of them turning their back to me, they start facing me, and the gas coming out has a certain shape, white, and combined with the smoke coming from the tires it will be a mix of white and black, and that is what makes a picture strong.

“I call this place a place of death, there is death here, it is not a place of comfort, any second someone could die."

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Suheir Sheikh; Editing by Toby Chopra)