Gazan photo journalist Yaser Murtaja was a salaried senior member of Hamas’s military wing, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Tuesday.“The photographer was a terrorist,” Liberman told reporters in Katzrin on the Golan Heights. Murtaja was one of nine Palestinians fatally shot by the IDF during last Friday’s “Great March of Return” protest on the Gaza border. Liberman did not provide any substantiation on the source of his claims. According to some media reports he may have been standing 100 meters from the Gaza security fence when he was shot. The IDF has warned Palestinians that those who come that close to the barrier do so at risk to their lives.
The story of the 30-year-old photographer who was shot in the stomach while wearing a flak vest marked “PRESS” and taking pictures of the protest immediately garnered international headlines.His photographs as well as a picture of him with his two-year-old daughter were widely publicized on social media. In the cover photograph on his Facebook page, he has a camera with a large lens strapped on his shoulder and he is holding a drone camera over his head.On March 24 he posted an aerial shot of the Gaza City shoreline, with the following words, “My only dream is to travel, I wish to capture this scene from the air, not from the ground. I am 30, live in Gaza and never traveled.”Liberman told reporters that Murtaja had used his drone to gather information about IDF soldiers on the border. Murtaja had a rank equivalent to that of a captain in Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, where he has been on the payroll since 2011, the defense minister said.“I hope that all those journalists and media outlets that talked about the poor journalist Murtaja who did his job faithfully, will publish all the facts correctly,” Liberman said.This is another example of how Hamas members work disguised as journalists, ambulance crews and patients, Liberman said.The prime minister’s spokesman David Keyes also tweeted about Murtaja’s military role in Hamas, and asked reporters who had called him a journalist to correct the record.But Murtaja, the co-founder of the Gaza-based Ain Media company, was well known for his photos and videos. His company was used by major media outlets including Al Jazeera and the BBC.Murtaja had worked on a number of well-known documentaries, including Gaza: Surviving Shujayea, Human Flow and Ouroboros.The Associated Press reported that Ain Media had recently received an $11,700 grant from the US government.On Saturday he had been scheduled to help the Norwegian Refugee Council document Palestinian refugee life in Gaza. “I talked to Yaser on Wednesday evening by phone, after he came back from the Access Restricted Zone in Gaza where Palestinians were demonstrating,” the Norwegian Refugee Council’s media adviser in the Middle East, Karl Schembri, told the media.“We talked about the stories we wanted to cover – families affected by violence, as well as children again exposed to trauma and their ensuing nightmares. Two days later, he was killed by an Israeli sniper while peacefully observing the demonstrations. He was killed doing his job: recording his people’s right to protest for their human rights.”In a statement on its media page, Ain Media claimed that the IDF had targeted Murtaja.“We confirm that Yaser Murtaja was filming in an area that does not pose a threat to the occupation and was not operating a drone camera on the day as the occupation claims,” Ain Media said.
Funeral held for Palestinian journalist killed in Israel-Gaza protests, April 7, 2018 (Reuters)