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Thank you Motaz Azaiza, for waking up a world that has long been asleep

January 26, 2024 at 7:46 pm

Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza, who has been documenting the impact of the war between Israel and the Hamas group in the Gaza Strip, stands in a street in the central part of the Palestinian territory on December 18, 2023. [Photo by -/AFP via Getty Images]

On the 109th day of Israel’s genocidal war against Gaza, Palestinian photojournalist, Motaz Azaiza, who has been documenting the harrowing impact since the outset, finally unclasped his press vest, allowing himself a moment to breathe.

With eyes lowered, a trembling breath and a hesitant smile, the exhalation seemed restrained – understandably so. He had not only witnessed Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Gaza in real time, but also endured its brutality as a victim.

Born and raised in Deir Al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza, the intense horror 24-year-old Motaz journaled against his homeland and people, as well as his own bombardment is an experience, far from ordinary trauma.

We watched Motaz cradling two babies drenched with blood inside a speeding car, desperately seeking aid. In a separate clip, another baby rests in Motaz’s arms, but there is no chance for this one. The accompanying caption simply recounts how, during the ambulance journey, someone knocked on the ambulance window and “put this little martyr baby in my arms”.

Moreover, through his lens, we saw the aftermath of an Israeli assault on his family’s residence in the Deir Al-Balah refugee camp. Tragically, at least 15 members of his family, predominantly women and children, lost their lives. Among the heartbreaking scenes, one body bag contained the remains of two of his younger cousins.

His feed rapidly filled with pictures of destroyed neighbourhoods and strangers sharing their food amid shortages. However, it was not always filled with ruin and carnage.

On 5 October, he captured a black and white cat nestled on the cosy shores of the Gaza beach, as children in the distance, oblivious to the days ahead, danced and played. The next post showcased a green-eyed girl with two short plaits, smiling in front of a glowing sunset, waves lapping behind her.

On 6 October, he shared a bird’s-eye view of Gaza from the skies, capturing buildings and rooftops beneath the white, clear clouds.

The contrasting posts that have followed, since, haunts the soul. Every picture is clouded in smoke and corpses, many consisting of the very moment men have lost their wives and children and mother’s hugging the remains of their children wrapped in their burial cloth.

WATCH: Gazan boy’s struggle to find water every day

One picture, posted on 27 December 2023, is of a child in a nappy wailing on the hospital floor with a broken, bandaged leg.

Motaz captioned it: “You all know Spider man? All the children love him, most of the children I met like to do his moves. For this child, instead of playing with his hands like spider man, his hands are busy with the cannula to transfer blood to his body after he got injured in an Israeli air strike, plus losing his Mom. Pardon me for this imagination, but I’m really full of pain from what I’m witnessing happening to my people, to me.”

“He lost his knee, and a Mom.”

These glimpses offer only a fraction of the day’s grim reality, which was enough for people to use their privilege to turn their phone off, switch the channel and, in many instances, take a social media break.

Unike Motaz, we are not surrounded by the stench of flesh and decaying bodies while standing in a tent surrounded by corpses, nor choking on the blinding dust while walking amidst the rubble, struggling to recall the buildings that once stood there.

Yet, with his press vest securely fastened, Motaz persisted, even though it exacted a toll.

On Christmas Day, Motaz shared a chilling update, revealing that a quadcopter hovered low above the door of his house, sparking fears of an imminent Israeli airstrike. As a visibly prominent Palestinian online, who had previously received threats, Azaiza had valid reasons to be afraid.

Gaza has witnessed more journalist casualties than any other conflict since CPJ began documenting journalists’ deaths. As of 25 January, CPJ’s initial inquiries revealed that at least 83 journalists and media personnel were among the over 26,000 fatalities since Israel launched a deadly military offensive against the Gaza Strip on 7 October. This toll includes over 25,000 Palestinian lives lost in Gaza and the Occupied West Bank, along with 1,200 deaths in Israel.

Nevertheless, he persisted. From the comfort of our beds, we woke up each morning to updates from him – more mass graves, explosions and the haunting faces of Palestinians captured in the moment they are shot. It almost evolved into a ritual for those keeping aware of the ongoing war.

Despite heavy shadow-banning and censoring, instances of his blunt reporting brought attention to the Western media under-reporting on the scale of destruction and casualties as a result of Israel’s genocide in Gaza, dehumanising or completely erasing them.

The Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate has described the Western media discourse around the Israeli assault on Gaza as a “new low for the principles of journalistic integrity”.

READ: Gaza man found alive 8 days after being trapped under rubble

In a statement on Tuesday, Palestinian journalists and trade unionists said they “are distressed that some in global media have frequently failed to meet these standards when covering the ongoing massacre in Gaza.” The statement urged reporters, especially those working for Western media outlets, to abide by basic journalistic standards.

Living through the war, Motaz lost colleagues, his best friend and family members to airstrikes, experiencing the same shortages as everyone in Gaza—food, clean water, shelter and electricity.

With each post, Motaz challenged humanity’s conscience, questioning their duty to witness and take action. He ventured into areas moments after they were bombed, such as the residence in front of the Al-Aqsa Hospital, where families were killed, and neighbours fled carrying bags containing torn flesh and limbs from the victims. Holding the camera in one hand and aiding the injured with the other, he repeatedly risked his life to ensure the world truly comprehended the catastrophic extent of Israel’s war crimes against the people of Gaza.

In doing so, Motaz exemplified the essence of true journalism – transparent, fearless and unyielding in its pursuit of fighting for freedom and justice, as well as countering dehumanisation in foreign narratives.

In his heartfelt video, as colleagues helped him remove his heavy press vest, Motaz expressed hope to return and contribute to rebuilding Gaza.

“This is the last time you will see me with this heavy, stinky press vest. I decided to evacuate today. Hopefully soon I’ll jump back and help to build Gaza again,” he said.

Burdened with his people’s truth and pain, but mostly by the world’s ignorance and inaction, his eyes reveal – and you don’t need a caption to explain it – that he suffered hell along the way. Thank you, Motaz Azaiza, for waking up a world that has long been asleep.

WATCH: Dispatch from Gaza: ‘Miracle’ baby delivered after her mother is killed

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.