Yaser Murtaja, a photojournalist and cameraperson for the Gaza-based media production company Ain Media, was injured on April 6, 2018, when a live round hit him in the abdomen while he was covering protests in the area east of Khan Younis city, the local press freedom group Palestinian Center for Media Development (MADA) reported, quoting Murtaja’s colleague Hossam Hisham Salem who was at the scene. Murtaja, a Palestinian, died the next day from wounds sustained during the shooting, according to news reports, MADA, and the Palestinian Journalist Syndicate (PJS).
Testimony from local journalists who witnessed the incident described Murtaja as wearing a bulletproof vest and helmet that were both clearly marked with the words “PRESS” when he was hit.
Hossam Hisham Salem, a photographer for Ain Media who witnessed his colleague being shot, told MADA that Murtaja was approximately 350 meters (1,148 ft) from the border fence when a bullet hit the right side of his abdomen.
“He was transferred to Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis where he underwent a four-hour operation, during which part of his liver was removed. The bullet caused severe damage in the spleen and arteries, resulting in substantial blood loss. At midnight, his state worsened and had to undergo surgery again. He died an hour later,” he said, according to MADA’s website.
Murtaja was covering the second consecutive week of anti-Israel protests by thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, news reports said. In addition to Murtaja, journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein was killed in the protest movement, which lasted around a year and a half, during which Palestinians demonstrated to end the Israeli siege on Gaza and return to historic homelands inside Israel. Dozens of journalists were also injured, leading a 2019 U.N. inquiry to find “reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli snipers shot journalists intentionally.”
In response to Murtaja’s death, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that “whoever operates drones above IDF [Israel Defense Forces] soldiers needs to understand that he is endangering himself,” and “We have seen dozens of cases of Hamas activists were disguised as medics and journalists,” according to local media reports.
The U.S. State Department said on April 10, 2018, that Murtaja’s Ain Media had recently received a $11,700 vetted grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development, according to news reports.
In a statement released on April 7, the IDF denied that it targets journalists and said the circumstances of Murtaja’s death would be investigated, news reports said.
IDF’s chief of training and doctrine, Brigadier Gen. Moti Baruch, was appointed to lead the investigation into the IDF’s response to the mass protests in the Gaza Strip, including the death of Murtaja, according to multiple news reports.
In an email to CPJ in 2023, the IDF said Murtaja was “allegedly present at the scene of the violent riots. The riots included gunfire at IDF soldiers, attempts to infiltrate Israeli territory and damage security infrastructure, the burning of tires and hurling of stones, Molotov cocktails, explosives and grenades at soldiers.” The IDF said the case was examined in a preliminary probe, called a “fact-finding assessment” and “no suspicion was found which would justify the opening of a criminal investigation.”
The IDF also said it had “called on civilians to avoid approaching the area of active combat and violent riots led by the Hamas terrorist organization.”
A report released by Human Rights Watch on April 3, 2018, said that Israeli soldiers had orders from senior Israeli officials to use live ammunition against Palestinian protesters even if protesters did not pose a threat to the soldiers or civilians.
Murtaja helped found Ain Media in 2012 and previously produced video and documentaries for Arabic outlets, including the Qatari broadcaster Al-Jazeera Arabic, the London-based Al-Araby TV and international organizations, including UNICEF. His work focused mainly on human rights and politics in Gaza and the region. He had also worked on assignments for Al-Jazeera English and Vice, according to reporter Anna Therese Day who was in touch with Murataja’s relatives. He also worked as a camera assistant for Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s documentary Human Flow, news reports said.
This report was updated on April 25, 2023.