Yasser Murtaja. Photo: Mohanad Yaqubi.

Palestinian Journalist Who Worked with Ai Weiwei Fatally Shot by Israeli Military

Yasser Murtaja, a thirty-year-old Palestinian journalist who worked on Ai Weiwei’s documentary film about the refugee crisis, Human Flow (2017), was fatally shot by Israeli troops while covering demonstrations at Gaza’s border with Israel on Friday, April 6.

Murtaja was one of at least nine people who were killed by Israeli forces on Friday. According to The Guardian at least thirty-one people have been killed since the March to Return demonstrations began eight days ago, including nineteen Palestinians and two armed militants. Israel claims that ten of the nineteen people killed were militants.

The six-week-long action is set to end on May 15, coinciding with Israel’s seventieth Independence Day, the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, and Nakba Day (Day of Catastrophe), which is how Palestinians refer to the day when the state of Israel was officially created and hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were displaced.

Activists have claimed that the protests are nonviolent, but Israel has argued that they are being used by Hamas—Gaza’s ruling militant group, which is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union, and Israel—to plan attacks on the Israeli border.

However, when Murtaja was shot in the stomach he was wearing a protective vest that was marked “PRESS” in large capital letters, as well as a helmet. He was rushed to the hospital, but died on Saturday from his injuries.

Reporters Without Borders has since condemned Israel’s excessive use of force on demonstrators and is calling for a full investigation into the crimes being carried out against the press. In response to the incident, the Israeli military provided Reuters with the following statement: “The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) does not intentionally target journalists. The circumstances in which journalists were allegedly hit by IDF fire are not familiar to the IDF and are being looked into.”

A well-known figure in the local film community, Murtaja was a self-taught cameraman who worked with artists such as Ai Weiwei and the Palestinian filmmaker Basma Alsharif. Murtaja filmed the scenes that took place in Gaza for Alsharif’s 74-minute, experimental film Ouroboros, which premiered at the Locarno Film Festival in 2017. He founded the organization Ain Media, a Gaza-based news agency that has extensively covered the war between Israel and Hamas, shortly after he started working as a professional cameraman in 2012.

“Their footage is some of the most important footage to come out of the war,” the Palestinian filmmaker Mohamed Jabaly told ScreenDaily in an interview. “Losing him is a loss. It’s a big shock for everyone.”