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Israeli government effort to paint slain journalist Yaser Murtaja as terrorist is failing

Media Analysis
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Last Friday, an Israeli sniper killed Yaser Murtaja, 30, one of six Palestinian journalists shot that day. Yesterday the Israeli Prime Minister‘s office and Defense Minister sought to smear Murtaja as a terrorist.

Defense Minister : The photographer () was a terrorist with a prior association w/ the military wing of Hamas. He held the rank of captain & was paid regularly by Hamas since 2011. He used to fly drones to collect intel on IDF forces at the front.

The claim featured a photograph of Murtaja with a drone, taken from his own Facebook page. Murtaja proudly worked as a photographer with drones. His famous recent Facebook entry, in which he said he dreamed of leaving Gaza, featured a drone image.

Photograph of Yaser Murtaja with a drone from his Facebook page, used against him by Israeli Defense Ministry.

The most important aspect of the Israeli effort is that it is failing. No one is taking Lieberman’s smear seriously. International media is rallying to Yaser Murtaja’s side: notably the Washington Post, the Guardian– “Gaza photographer’s last video captures brutal crackdown on protests”– and the New Yorker, whose piece on Murtaja’s death yesterday, titled, “Watching a Fellow-Journalist Die in Gaza,” didn’t even lower itself to quote the Israeli hasbara.

The Gaza killings are thus proving to be a landmark event in Israel’s isolation, as mainstream American voices cease to give any credence to the right-wing government’s (pathetic) self-justifications. Compare this to Israel’s defense of killing nine people aboard the Mavi Marmara in 2010. It got a willing audience for its claims that its commandos, descending by rope on to a ship deck at night, were endangered by international aid activists.

“Lieberman provided no evidence to support his claims,” Haaretz reports.

It notes that Ain, the Gaza media group Murtaja co-founded in 2012, which worked with many international media organizations, lately was approved for a grant of $11,700 from the U.S. AID to promote private sector development in Gaza.

Morris of the Washington Post also has that story. 

“Israeli defense minister claims journalist shot in Gaza had been on the payroll for Hamas military wing since 2011. If so, seems odd his production company wasn’t flagged when US approved it for funding last month, following a vetting process.”

While at the New Yorker, Yamine Al-Sayyad has posted a rivetting piece about Murtaja’s achievements, based on an interview with Rushdi al-Sarraj, co-founder of AIN, who was with him as he was shot and died.

“We believe he was targeted. First, because he was very clearly wearing the “PRESS” flak jacket and the helmet. Second, the Israeli Army bragged a couple of days ago on Twitter that their soldiers know where they put every bullet and where every bullet landed. Third, that same day Yaser passed away, four or five journalists were injured, some shot in the leg, others in the arm, all from direct shots, even though they all had “PRESS” signs on….

“He didn’t study journalism or filmmaking. He studied accounting, but he taught himself. He always worked very hard at being good at what he does. This is how he got to work with all the international journalists.

“We used to think there is a certain respect for journalists, a freedom, international laws that we hear about all over the world. But the Israeli occupation has broken all the international treaties, and targeted journalists everywhere in the 2014 war, in 2012, and now, again, in 2018, with Yaser’s death. Each time, there are injuries and deaths among journalists.

The Committee to Protect Journalists two days ago denounced Lieberman and called for an investigation of Murtaja’s killing and the wounding of five other journalists.

[CPJ] today condemned comments by Israel’s defense minister over the weekend that appear to justify the killing of Palestinian journalist Yaser Murtaja in Gaza, and called on authorities to hold to account anyone who shot journalists with live ammunition….

“Journalists are civilians, and security forces have a duty to ensure that they can work safely,” CPJ Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said from Washington D.C. “Israeli authorities must thoroughly investigate the killing of Yaser Murtaja, rather than sustain their record of making empty pledges to probe the killing of journalists during conflict and other dangerous assignments.”

The Israeli government is not speaking with one voice. The Israeli army says that it is investigating the circumstances of the shootings of Murtaja and other journalists.  “Asked about the IDF killing of journalist Yasser Murtaja in Gaza, Israeli Communications Minister Ayoub Kara responded: ‘innocent people die in war,'” Mike Omer-Man of +972 reports.

Murtaja’s Facebook feed is an often-heart-stirring window on an active journalistic career.

While Ain Media’s Facebook page has many images of international support: from a demonstration protesting Murtaja’s killing in London, and a candlelight vigil in Portland, Oregon, to celebrate Murtaja’s life.

Yaser Murtaja is memorialized in Portland Oregon. Photo by Nada Abu Hijleh

There was also this memorial in New York on April 9.

Memorial to Yaser Murtaja, Union Square, NY, April 9, 2018

And this commemoration in Taksim Square Istanbul.

“You Can’t Kill the Truth.” Memorial to Yaser Murtaja in Taksim Square, Istanbul.

Video from the Portland vigil features a tearful Gazan, Nour AlGhussein, remembering her close friend working tirelessly as a journalist.

He was one of the first people to go under fire to cover news… He stayed there working so hard for two years. He was going to finish his dream, of a movie [“Between Two Borders”], on Saturday. He was doing his job. He was covering the news. He was there to tell people what is going on. But they shoot him… He just had a new baby. [15 months old, per The New Yorker]

AlGhussein says she didn’t talk for days after learning of her friend’s death.

Murtaja had lately agreed to shoot footage for the Norwegian Refugee Council. In 2014, Ain was said to have worked with “the Muslim Hands, Maan Development Centre, Palestinian Housing Council, Al Tale’a Institution, Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Partners for Peace & Development for Palestinians, The Holy Land School & Kindergarten, Interpal, Islam channel, If charity, The Islamic University of Gaza & The University College of Applied sciences.”

Thanks to Allison Deger.


Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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11 Responses

  1. amigo on April 11, 2018, 3:05 pm

    Even CNN included the video of this murder on their news bulletin.They also included videos of the murder of two other unarmed Palestinian Protesters .

    This was on the European broadcast which is what I follow in Ireland so don,t know if it saw the light of day on CNN USA.

    Anyone know??.

  2. annie on April 11, 2018, 4:02 pm

    they targeted him precisely because of who he was. talented, young, ambitious, and beautiful. palestinians such as Murtaja represent a grave threat to israel, precisely because of who they are.

    • Maghlawatan on April 11, 2018, 4:35 pm

      They always kill charismatic Palestinians. In Beirut in the 70s they murdered people like Ghassan Kanafani . It makes no difference. Zionism is doomed.

    • Misterioso on April 12, 2018, 10:56 am

      @Annie Robbins

      Well said! And more and more of the “talented, young, ambitious and beautiful,” male and female Palestinians such as Murtaja, who increasingly “represent a grave threat to Israel” will continue to step forward and join the struggle on behalf of their people, the indigenous inhabitants of historic Palestine.

      From the New Yorker, April 10/18:

      “Watching a Fellow-Journalist Die in Gaza” By Yasmine Al-Sayyad

      “Last Friday morning, Yaser Murtaja, a thirty-year-old Palestinian journalist, had breakfast, said goodbye to his family, and went to work. Murtaja, who was married and the father of a fifteen-month-old son, joined other journalists covering Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip who were demanding their return to lands lost to Israel since its founding, in 1948. While filming a documentary about the demonstrations, Murtaja wore a blue flak jacket with the word “PRESS” written on it in large clear letters across the chest. In the afternoon, he was shot in the abdomen and rushed to a local hospital, where he died, twelve hours later.

      “Murtaja was one of five Palestinian journalists who were shot last Friday, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based press-freedom group that has called for a full investigation of Murtaja’s death. The Israeli military said that Israeli forces did not intentionally fire on the journalists, and said that the incident would be reviewed. Palestinian journalists say that the number of reporters wounded shows that Israeli snipers intentionally targeted journalists.

      “On Monday, I spoke by telephone with Murtaja’s longtime friend and journalistic collaborator, Rushdi Al Sarraj, who was working with Murtaja when he was fatally wounded. Murtaja and Al Sarraj started a media company five years ago that works with various international news organizations to provide coverage of Gaza. We spoke in Arabic. What follows is a translation of what Al Sarraj said, which has been edited for length and clarity.”

      • CigarGod on April 12, 2018, 3:36 pm

        From time to time I get comments like: Why is it any our business? If their cause is so just, where is their Gandhi and MLK?

        I tell them: They have had many leaders of that stature…and just like Gandhi and MLK…they have been shot.

    • CigarGod on April 12, 2018, 11:48 am

      Your comment gave me shivers.
      A certain young, charismatic blond is being held far from public view.

      • Misterioso on April 12, 2018, 12:32 pm


        I’ve been thinking the same thing. BTW, Code Pink has announced it is setting up a US tour for Ahed Tamimi when she is released.

      • annie on April 12, 2018, 2:29 pm

        misterioso, friends of sabeel tried bringing her here for a 2017 speaking tour and the US denied her a visa. hopefully code pink will be more successful.

        as an aside, i wrote an article once about filmmaker Mohammad al-Azza, when they shot his eye out, called targeting talent . there are too many young stellar palestinians who have been targeted to name them all. this is a pattern of colonization and genocide, to remove the leaders of a cultural/national group, especially the males. COIN does it too.

  3. Kathleen on April 11, 2018, 9:14 pm

    Israel has a really bad habit of taking out journalist. We know with the intention to do so. How many international journalist have gone into report about the last two Friday massacres. Remembering how Israel shut out international journalist in 2008/09

    Phil thought you might like to know the only time Chris Matthews brought up Arafat on Monday evening comparing his alleged working the who you know card with the way Trump works it. Still no mention on his show of the massacres but he was more than willing to bring up Arafat in a bad light. Odd.

    Then tonight (Wednesday) he had Robin Wright on and they were agreeing in so many words and body language that the human disaster in Syria is all Russia, Iran and Assad’s fault. Somehow no mention on he or Wright’s part to even hit at Obama/Clinton’s roles in that human disaster. Pathetic

  4. Marnie on April 11, 2018, 11:46 pm

    “We used to think there is a certain respect for journalists, a freedom, international laws that we hear about all over the world. But the Israeli occupation has broken all the international treaties, and targeted journalists everywhere in the 2014 war, in 2012, and now, again, in 2018, with Yaser’s death. Each time, there are injuries and deaths among journalists.”

    I used to think that the elderly, children and women weren’t targets, but that was pretty naive. Any and every Palestinian man, woman and child has a target on their backs or their heads and is in the crosshairs of every IOF murderer. Big, bold PRESS or the visible insignias of medical personnel offer no protection if the wearer is Palestinian. They know where all their bullets went because they keep track of their kills so they can celebrate (off camera) later and get the hero speech by former bouncer and current thug/inciter Avigdor Lieberman who will continue to kill the victim after their physical death by claiming they were terrorists and apparently then, deserved summary execution for the safety and security of the jewish people living on stolen land.

  5. CigarGod on April 12, 2018, 11:44 am

    “…they know where they put every bullet and where it lands.”

    This is also true in their placement of white phosphorous bombs.
    – As long as it hits Gaza, it is on target –

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