Gaza City—Both Yasser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein were wearing vests marked PRESS when the Israeli snipers shot them dead. Both were killed while covering current protests at the Gaza border. Thirty-year-old Murtaja, shot on April 6, died the next day. Twenty-four-year-old Hussein, shot on April 13 and later transferred to an Israeli hospital, died Wednesday.
Murtaja’s charismatic smile and professional credentials—he’d worked as a cameraman with the BBC, Ai Wei Wei and Al Jazeera, among others, and had just been commissioned by the Norwegian Refugee Council—kept his death in the headlines for days after. “I wish I could take this picture from the air,” he had posted on Facebook just last month. “I live in Gaza. I have never travelled.” Five other Palestinian journalists were also injured by live fire the day Murtaja died, according to the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, which accused Israel of targeting the press in violation of international law.
Journalists generally cringe at being the story. But Murtaja’s death brought relatively rare attention to the plight of Palestinian journalists in war-weary Gaza—besieged by Israel’s and Egypt’s blockade, ruled by the repressive Hamas, and, amid Palestinian infighting, dire electricity shortages, and international-aid cuts, facing humanitarian and economic collapse. In Gaza, Palestinian journalists fear being targeted by Israel in war or clashes—like any other Gazan—all while living locked in a highly politicized local media environment in which, as one journalist who requested anonymity in order to speak without repercussion put it, “You can’t hold the responsible responsible.” Journalists interviewed said that, besieged from all sides, there are too many stories left untold.
Ain Media, a production company that Murtaja co-founded in 2012, had seemed to defy the odds and make it work. Now located in one of Gaza City’s nicer buildings, Ain Media was the first to use hard-to-acquire drones and shot widely shared bird’s-eye images of the destruction of the Shejaiya neighborhood of Gaza City after the 2014 Israeli assault. They were young guys with no formal media training (Murtaja studied accounting) but a passion for film and photography and a desire to do something new in Gaza, explained Rushdi Sarraj, a co-founder and childhood friend of Murtaja’s.