A bitter award for AFP photographer Mohammed El-Baba



 
AFP photojournalist Mohammed El-Baba won this year's Editor & Publisher's Photo of the Year contest for a picture taken right after the death of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana'a in the Gaza Strip. MENASSAT met with El-Baba to ask him about the award as press conditions in Gaza and the West Bank continue to degrade.
 
By OLFAT HADDAD
 
baba winner
Mohammed El-Baba's winning photo taken shortly after the death of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana'a by an Israeli tank shell. © AFP

GAZA, November 3, 2008 (MENASSAT) – 38-year-old AFP photographer Mohammed Abdel Raziq El-Baba won this year's 9th Annual Editor & Publisher’s Award in the Best News Picture category for the picture he took right after Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana’a was killed in the Gaza Strip last April.

The photo shows an injured child laying on the ground shouting in front of the burning remains of Shana'a's destroyed car. The Israeli courts later cleared the soldier responsible for the shelling.

"I was happy this particular photo won," El-Baba told MENASSAT.

More than 250,000 US participants voted for the photo, which El-Baba said was a credit to the daily struggle of Palestinian journalists trying to do their work in increasingly dangerous conditions.

Who is Mohammed El-Baba?

El-Baba is himself a product of the harsh life that so many Gaza residents have had to endure over the years. Born in Rafah, he studied journalism and media at the Islamic University in Gaza, and later at the Arab League Center for Media and Research in Cairo.

But it was his first reporting gig with local paper Al-Hayat Al-Jadida that gave him the reporting bug more than eight years ago.

"Photography had always been my hobby. I used to photograph everything with my little camera. I used to think the reports I sent to the paper were flavorless if I didn't send photos with them. It made them more valuable," he said.

El-Baba's started working with AFP at the start of the second intifada in 2000, known by Palestinians as the "Al-Aqsa Intifada."

"I was taking photos in Rafah, and everyone knows it was the scene of countless incursions by the Israeli Army. These military actions needed to be photographed," El-Baba said.

The Editor & Publisher award was the first international competition that El-Baba entered. While he is proud of the win, he said, "I also want to win for my print work. Then I will feel like my work is compete."

Dedicating the award

El-Baba has not been told the specific dates of the awards ceremony, which is expected to occur at year's end, but already he knows that it will be difficult to leave Gaza to collect his prize.

The Gaza Strip has been under an economic and travel blockade since Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006. The Israeli government tightened the siege after the violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip in June 2007.

"I will start preparing my documents to go to the United States as soon as I am informed of the date."

As for the award itself, El-Baba said he would dedicate the win to his Reuters colleague Fadel Shana'a at the ceremony.

"This is the least I can do for Fadel, who was killed twice: first when they shot at him, the second time when his murderer was cleared."

El-Baba told MENASSAT that he doesn't want to be known for his war photography alone.

"I want to shoot sports, fashion and nature photographs – and I want to shoot a lot more in other countries, because I want to get out a little away from the war mode in Gaza," he said.

"I want a period of peace – a break, so I can reconcile things within myself. It's extremely hard to be a journalist in Gaza."

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More information: Editor & Publisher.