Watching a Fellow-Journalist Die in Gaza
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.
"Yaser and I were preparing a documentary about the Great Return March that started a week and a half ago. Yaser thought of making a documentary about it and picked some characters to follow: a nurse, a doctor, a twelve-year-old student, all of whom had joined the protests.
"Friday morning, we went over and started filming. We recorded the Friday prayers near the border and, right after the prayers, were surprised when the "Israeli" soldiers started shooting at us. One of those bullets unfortunately hit Yaser. He had a flak jacket on that said "PRESS" in large, clear print, and a protective helmet.
"He fell right away. People ran over to him, and I heard screams: ‘A journalist is injured, a journalist is injured.' I ran over and found out it was Yaser, my friend. Yaser was awake the whole way to the hospital. He was in a lot of pain, saying, ‘My stomach, how bad is my injury? There is a lot of pain; my legs are numb.'
"He died around 1:30 A.M. I was there. I never left. His brother and another friend of ours, the three of us were there the entire time. His family came by, his uncles, but we felt that his condition was getting more stable, so some of them left to get some rest and come back in the morning, hoping that he would be better by then. By then, he had passed.
"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.
"I have known him since we were children; we used to hang out a lot and we both wanted to be filmmakers. This is why we started a media company together in 2012, and we worked with a lot of people, both locally and internationally. He was more than a brother to me.
"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.
"Anyone who lives in Gaza knows that their life is in danger, that one day they might be targeted, whether they're civilians, journalists, even if they were foreigners or international workers, their lives are in danger. So, we were in danger. When Yaser went to report on Friday, he didn't rule out that the ‘IDF' would target anyone in the area. But we thought that at least there is some sanctity to journalists. But it is clear today that there is no respect for human rights, or for anything that is sacred."
Source: The New Yorker, Edited by website team