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.
@AvigdorLiberman: The photographer ( #YasserMurtaja) 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.
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.
There was also this memorial in New York on April 9.
And this commemoration 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.