Ai Weiwei and Basma Alsharif Pay Tribute to Slain Palestinian Journalist; Criticize Israeli Forces
Yasser Murtaja, who worked with the artists, was shot dead by Israeli sniper fire while covering clashes at the Gaza-Israel border
Last Friday 6 April, 30-year-old Palestinian journalist Yasser Murtaja – who worked with the artists Ai Weiwei and Basma Alsharif – was shot dead by Israeli sniper fire while covering clashes at the Gaza-Israel border. He was one of at least nine who were killed by Israeli soldiers that day. Murtaja was shot in the stomach, despite wearing a blue flak jacket marked ‘PRESS’ in capital letters. Murtaja died in hospital later that day after succumbing to injuries.
Murtaja had worked as an assistant cameraman for artist Ai Weiwei’s documentary on the refugee crisis Human Flow (2017). ‘We are deeply saddened by the loss of Yasser Murtaja, who possessed a sunny attitude and was full of imagination for a future beyond those barriers,’ Ai Weiwei told frieze. ‘His life was cut short because of unimaginable hatred and the dreadful politics afflicting the region. Shooting a journalist anywhere should be considered a crime against humanity.’
The Chinese artist posted a photo of Murtaja on his Instagram feed, showing the journalist bleeding on the ground, with a caption noting his role in his film. On Twitter, Ai described the killing as ‘so sick’.
Murtaja also worked as a line producer and production manager for Palestinian filmmaker Basma Alsharif, filming scenes in Gaza for her first feature-length film Ouroboros (2017). Described as a ‘homage to the Gaza Strip’, it premiered at last year’s Locarno Film Festival.
‘I needed someone I could trust to to present Gaza in a way that depicted both the stark beauty of that city and the devastation it has suffered from Israel's occupation on the territory. [Murtaja] expertly produced startling images that are always the first to be commented upon by audiences after viewing the film,’ Alsharif told frieze. ‘The devastating, unjust, and violent end that [Murtaja] faced [...] like so many others for too many decades, speaks to a willingness by the international community to accept the death of non-violent citizens by the Israeli Forces,’ she said.
A self-taught cameraman, Murtaja founded the Gaza-based news agency Ain Media in 2012, covering the Israel-Palestine conflict. ‘He was a true talent who stood out in such harsh conditions, with no proper cinematic education and any institutional environment,’, the Palestinian filmmaker Mohanad Yaqubi told Screen Daily.
Although activists argue that the actions of the March to Return protestors – which Murtaja was covering – have been nonviolent, Israel claim they are being deployed by Hamas. Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders are calling for an investigation into Israel’s use of violence against the demonstrations.
One of Murtaja’s last Facebook posts was a photo of Gaza City’s port captured from a drone: ‘I wish that the day would come to take this shot when I’m in the air and not on the ground,’ Murtaja wrote. ‘My name is Yaser Murtaja. I’m 30 years old. I live in Gaza City. I’ve never traveled!’