"We know where every bullet landed": This is Yaser Murtaja before Israeli snipers targetted him for being a journalist. PRESS can NOT protect Palestinian journalists. #GreatReturnMarch pic.twitter.com/jS4oEqmnAw— Palestine Info Center (@palinfoen) April 7, 2018
The Israel government has started what can be only called a smear campaign against a slain Palestinian journalist, Yaser Murtaja.
The 30-year-old father of a toddler was fatally shot by Israeli snipers while he was covering the protests on Gaza border on April 6. Images before and after his shooting show the man wore a blue flak-jacket, with the word “PRESS” boldly written on it.
The Israeli government has been struggling to give an explanation of why Murtaja was shot — but they are all filled with holes.
Soon after his funeral, Israel defense minister Avigdor Lieberman said Murtaja might have been shot because he was flying a drone to document the demonstration. However, this theory was also proven to be false. Murtaja did indeed use drones to video protests, however, footage of the journalist taken moments before he was shot showed he was only holding a handheld stabilizer device to record images during the Gaza protest.
مشاهد تُظهر اللحظات الأولى لاستشهاد الصحفي ياسر مرتجى @YaserMurtaja خلال تغطيته لمسيرة العودة الكُبرى في بلدة #خزاعة، وهذا يُكذب ادعاء الاحتلال بأنه كان يتحكم بطائرة تصوير عن بعد. Via @qudsn pic.twitter.com/xgnzoPPsjV— Yasser Ashour (@yasserashour95) April 8, 2018
An Israel Defense Forces spokesman also denied that Murtaja or any other members of the press were targets. But, if that’s the case, how can Israeli military justify it only fired live ammunition at what they dubbed “instigators” in a “precise, measured” way?
Photos taken at the time Murtaja was shot show huge black clouds of billowing smoke from burning rubber tires, obscuring the view from both directions. It belies the claim Israeli snipers were shooting with precise aim and appears they may actually have been shooting blindly in the direction of the demonstrators and journalists.
A few days after killing the journalist, defense minister Lieberman came up with a completely new theory to defend the actions of the soldiers: Yaser Murtaja is a member of Hamas, the militant organization that has been ruling Gaza for over a decade.
“Regarding the photographer, I said the photographer, as you asked, is a terrorist with a prior association with the military arm of Hamas,” Lieberman told the Intercept. “I hope those same journalists and media outlets that were so outraged and spoke about the poor journalist just faithfully doing his job publish the correct facts.”
“He was paid regularly beginning in 2011 and he used a drone to collect intelligence on [Israeli army] forces at the front," he also added.
The statement, made without any proof whatsoever, was of course, picked up and quickly shared on social media by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aides Ofir Gendelman and David Keyes.
Defense Minister @AvigdorLiberman:— Ofir Gendelman (@ofirgendelman) April 10, 2018
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. pic.twitter.com/zGLfDdYzpr
Turns out the "photographer" killed in Gaza was an officer in Hamas, a terrorist org that seeks Israel's destruction. On Hamas' payroll since 2011. Used his drone to collect intel on Israeli positions. Countless reporters called him a "journalist." Will they correct the record?— David Keyes (@DavidKeyesPMO) April 10, 2018
Gendelman used the journalist’s own Facebook cover photo, showing him holding his drone which he used to film the beauty of Gaza. The spokesman pushed the false narrative that Maurtaja used the drone to gather intel about the Israeli forces.
However, this opinion is in stark contrast with what was widely known about Murtaja.
What’s more, the same day Israeli officials pushed the story Murtaja was with Hamas, a spokesman for the IDF reportedly told Raf Sanchez, the Middle East correspondent for the Telegraph, they were not aware of the allegation.
Murtaja was not affiliated to Hamas. His colleagues, who worked alongside him in Gaza and witnessed his shooting, said he was dedicated to his work and had no political affiliation with Hamas, or otherwise. In fact, Murtaja and three other journalists were captured and beaten by Hamas militants for documenting the clearing of an Israeli bombing site in Gaza City in 2015.
Murtaja was a freelance journalist and co-founder of Ain Media. He was widely known and his work was featured in many international news organizations, including BBC and Vice, human rights groups as well as in Chinese artist Ai WeiWei’s documentary, “Human Flow.”
In March, Murtaja was vetted and passed by the State Department to receive a USAID grant of $11,700 to buy film equipment for his company. It should be noted the agency’s West Bank and Gaza program has a strict vetting process to ensure funds are not diverted to Hamas or other groups deemed as terrorists by the United States.
A week before he was killed, Murtaja agreed to make a documentary for the Norwegian Refugee Council about the oppressed 2 million people of Gaza.
Wonderful Gaza journalist YasserMurtaja was assaulted by Hamas in 2015, vetted by US Govt for aid, killed when reporting by Israeli sniper, then smeared by Defense Minister Lierberman, @ngomonitor & Israeli Diplomat. This isn't the Israel I used to admire. @GeraldNGOM @RafiSchutz https://t.co/B08RWf0asA— Jan Egeland (@NRC_Egeland) April 11, 2018
Rushdi Serraj, the colleague who was with Murtaja when he was shot, said the journalist only bought the drone in 2015 and did not have it back in 2011 as Lieberman and Gendelman seemed to suggest.
“This is a stupid lie by Lieberman,” Serraj said. “He wants to justify his soldiers' murder against journalists.”
Mutasim, Murtaja’s brother, also accused the Israeli officials of pushing a false narrative.
“He spreads lies to get himself out of the impasse” he told the Associated Press. “Yasser was filming the protests with simple cameras to show they are peaceful.”
Tragically, the killing of Murtaja is nothing new in Palestine. As Ahed Tamimi rightly said after her sentencing, “There is no justice under occupation.” Israel may like to promote its army as “the most moral” in the world but it has continuously trampled on the rights of Palestinians, so much so that it doesn’t not even hesitate when shooting at unarmed civilians who were peacefully marching for their right to return.
Murtaja did not deserve to die. However, the Israel government has proved again and again that lives of Palestinians matter nothing to them.
Banner/Thumbnail credit: REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa