Yaser Murtaja, and his dreams of travelling
Described as a man with an infectious smile, the slain reporter dedicated his life to telling stories of Gaza residents.
Under a picture of Gaza City’s port captured by his drone, journalist Yaser Murtaja wrote the following words: “I hope the day that I can take this image when I am in the sky instead of on the ground will come! My name is Yaser, I am 30 years old, live in Gaza City and I have never travelled before in my life!”
This caption conveying Murtaja’s dream of travelling was written on March 24.
Two weeks later, the 30-year-old was killed by Israeli forces while covering the second Friday protests in as many weeks near the Gaza Strip’s eastern border.
An Israeli sniper shot Murtaja in the abdomen, despite him wearing a flak jacket clearly marked with the word “press” on it.
He became the 10th Palestinian to be killed by Israeli forces after being shot on April 6.
Dream of flying
Murtaja’s desire to travel was a recurrent theme in his social media posts. In February, his dream was fulfilled when he managed to leave the Gaza Strip through the southern Rafah border.
However, after spending hours in the Egyptian lounge on the other side of the crossing, he was forced back to the besieged enclave along with hundreds of other travellers.
In a Facebook post describing the events, Murtaja wrote: “The first time in my entire life I was successful in travelling was yesterday but I am back today. I stayed in the Egyptian lounge, and I wanted to get on the plane or even just to see one. Instead what I saw was the humiliation and oppression of the people from Gaza of which there is enough to fill a book with. The Egyptians turned back three passenger buses, citing security reasons in the Sinai.”
In another photograph, Murtaja is seen holding a drone just before it takes off to capture images of the Gaza Strip.
His comments on several photos taken by drones all point to his dream of flying or travelling – just for once in his life.
The man with an infectious smile
A husband and father to one child, Murtaja dedicated his life to covering what it means to be living in Gaza.
Always carrying his camera, he sought to tell the stories of Palestinians who had lived through years of the Israeli-Egyptian blockade and Israeli offensives on the Strip.
He was a respected cameraman for documentaries – most notably, Al Jazeera’s “Gaza: Surviving Shujayea”.
Known in Arabic as “Beesan”, the documentary was named after a little girl that was pulled from the rubble of her home during Israel‘s offensive on the Gaza Strip in the summer of 2014.
Most of Beesan’s family were killed, and Murtaja, along with a medic called Alaa Abu Shu’eer, struck up a close relationship with the child to help her get through her trauma.
In the last sequence of the film, which was released in 2016, Murtaja and Abu Shu’eer are seen playing with Beesan, taking her on paddleboat rides and to a fun fair.
People who knew him, including Gaza residents and colleagues, describe Murtaja as the man with an infectious smile; his social media accounts are full of photographs of him with wounded beaming children.
In his last moments, the slain journalist took pictures of the demonstrators near the border fence east of Khan Younis.
After being shot, Murtaja was transferred to Khan Younis’ Nasser Hospital. Photos show him being carried on a stretcher, in the hospital before undergoing surgery, and after passing away.
‘Crimes against Palestinian journalists’
His younger brother, Hamza, expressed his pain on social media with a few simple words.
“My beloved brother, my rock … oh my heartache,” he wrote on Facebook. “Yaser is a martyr, God willing. Thank God for his fate.”
Friday was a bloody day for journalists in Gaza. Alongside Murtaja, six other journalists were wounded by the Israeli occupation during their coverage of the border protests.
The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate paid tribute to Murtaja and described the targeting of seven reporters as “a determination by the Israeli army to continue committing deliberate crimes against Palestinian journalists”.
Murtaja embodied the story of a generation of Palestinians in Gaza whose hopes seem simple: they dream of living a normal life, just like everyone else.
They dream of being able to travel outside the Gaza Strip, the place representing to them all they know of this world.