Gaza: Awards under a blockade

Palestinian photojournalist Mohammad El-Baba won his second international award for a picture he took right after the death of Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana'a in the Gaza Strip. In an interview with Menassat, El-Baba discusses how he has not yet "tasted" his achievement, unable to leave besieged Strip to accept the awards.
AFP photographer Mohammed El-Baba's award-winning photo of injured child on the ground in front of the burning remains of Reuters cameraman Fadal Shana'a. © AFP/Mohammed El-Baba

GAZA, February 20, 2009 (MENASSAT) - “Despite my happiness in winning second place in the international Japanese Days competition, I feel a great depression for not being able to leave Gaza to receive it,” Associated Press (AFP) journalist Mohammad El-Baba told MENASSAT. 

Along with his achievement in the 2008 Japanese Days photojournalism awards for "a series of six pictures about the death of my colleague Fadel Shana'a by the occupation army last April," he also won the 9th Annual Editor & Publisher’s Award in the Best News Picture for one of the photos.

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 wasn’t able to leave Gaza to receive my previous award in the USA due to the war which took place at the same time," El-Baba said, referring to Israel's 22-day assault on the Gaza Strip in late-December/early-January, which lead to the death of over 1300 Palestinians. 

"I don't really taste victory"

Born in Rafah, El-Baba studied journalism and media at the Islamic University in Gaza, and later at the Arab League Center for Media and Research in Cairo. He started working with AFP at the start of the second intifada in 2000.

"In Gaza, we win prizes and first positions, but we can't get leave to receive them because of the blockade and the closures of the crossings. Even international interventions and the coordination to help us leave are not working, that is why I don’t really taste victory because I wish I could receive my award in front of all the people.”

Israel has imposed an economic and travel blockade on the Gaza Strip since Hamas was democratically-elected in the Palestinian parliament in 2006. The government tightened the siege after the Hamas takeover of the Strip in June 2007.

What is the use?

El-Baba told MENASSAT that a number of his colleagues won international awards but have also been bound to the Strip.

“What is the use of all the awards if we can’t receive them and the world can’t see the person who won?

"We want to speak about our suffering as Palestinian journalists and citizens, especially since these international events are a good opportunity to bring attention to the suffering of the Palestinian people."

El-Baba told MENASSAT he is also nominated for Reuters Thompson awards sponsored by the British Council in Jordan and was invited to Amman on February 27th.

The council is pressuring Israel to allow him to attend and says it would be refreshing for him to leave for a few days.

"Getting out of Gaza after the war to receive an award would be a great motivation to work harder, gain recognition, and win such awards again and again.”