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Palestinian journalist in Gaza: You can take away my award but you won't take away my voice

After months of covering the harrowing genocide in Gaza, I have been stripped of my Courage in Journalism Award following a systematic smear campaign by supporters of Israel
Maha Hussaini interviews a Palestinian boy in Gaza in June 2023 (Supplied/Mahmoud Mushtaha)
Maha Hussaini interviews a Palestinian boy in Gaza in June 2023 (Supplied/Mahmoud Mushtaha)

Over the past decade as a journalist and war reporter, I have come to understand why many do not continue in this profession, especially in Palestine.

In addition to immense challenges and ongoing physical targeting, there are extensive, systematic and well-organised efforts by pro-Israel organisations to intimidate and silence Palestinian journalists. These tactics aim to push journalists to abandon their work, which is crucial for exposing flagrant human rights violations and advancing the pursuit of accountability.

Throughout my career in journalism, I have been awarded two prizes, both of which were followed by extensive smear campaigns and calls from Israeli groups and individuals urging the awarding organisations to rescind them.

This June, I received a Courage in Journalism Award from the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) for my reporting on the ground from Gaza, which has been under a devastating Israeli siege and relentless bombardment for more than eight months. 

During this period, I was forcibly displaced three times, moving from one shelter to another. My home was bombed, and I endured months of starvation, blackouts and ongoing bombardment. At times, I had to resort to using a pen and paper to send my reports via text messages after Israel cut fuel and electricity supplies and bombed the infrastructure of Gaza’s main telecommunications companies. 

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Despite these hardships, I consider myself fortunate not to have (so far) joined the tally of around 150 Palestinian journalists killed by the Israeli military since 7 October 2023.

Just a few days after the IWMF announced my award, an Israeli smear campaign was launched on social media, demanding that it be rescinded. Within 24 hours, the IWMF complied, rescinding the award, removing my profile from its website and reducing the number of awardees from four to three.

Relentless attacks

“Within the last 24 hours, the IWMF learned of comments made by Maha Hussaini in past years that contradict the values of our organization,” the IWMF said in a brief statement, without elaborating. 

“As a result, we have rescinded the Courage in Journalism Award that was previously given to her. Both the Courage Awards and the IWMF’s mission are based on integrity and opposition to intolerance. We do not, and will not, condone or support views or statements that do not adhere to those principles.”

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On the same website, however, the IWMF states: “The Courage in Journalism Awards show people that women journalists are not going to step aside, cannot be silenced, and deserve to be recognized for their strength in the face of adversity. It honors the brave journalists who report on taboo topics, work in environments hostile to women, and share difficult truths.”

Every year, Palestinian journalists are recognised with international awards for their brave reporting under the Israeli occupation and amid relentless attacks. These accolades honour their courage and dedication to uncovering the truth.

If winning a prize entails enduring and witnessing war crimes while remaining silent, I am not honoured to receive any prizes

However, such recognition is often followed by extensive smear campaigns and intense pressure on the awarding organisations from supporters of the Israeli occupation and the Zionist lobby. While some groups uphold their principles and stand by these journalists, others, regrettably, cave to the pressure.

I would not have won this award if I had not been on the ground exposing flagrant Israeli violations under perilous conditions, all while being systematically attacked by supporters of the perpetrators. 

Winning a prize for “courage” means being subjected to attacks and choosing to continue your work regardless. Regrettably, the very organisation that recognised these perilous conditions and awarded me the prize chose to be uncourageous.

Global complicity

Nonetheless, I’m glad that both my winning the award and its subsequent withdrawal have starkly demonstrated the systematic physical and moral attacks that Palestinian journalists endure throughout their careers. It also shows how global media and international organisations can be seen as complicit in the silencing of Palestinian journalists.

Threats and character assassinations aim only to remove key voices and perpetuate the longstanding bias in global media. I have never worked to receive awards, nor have I ever submitted an application to nominate myself. 

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I did not choose journalism as a profession. I became a journalist after recognising the extent to which the world overlooks Palestinian suffering and opts to conform to Israeli pressures, especially at a time when Israel bans international journalists from entering the Gaza Strip to objectively report on the war.

Instead of acknowledging the threats faced by Palestinian journalists and contributing to their protection, the withdrawal of awards from Palestinian reporters in Gaza, where dozens of journalists have already been killed by Israeli forces, risks making them even bigger targets.

I have no regrets about any posts or past comments that led to the rescinding of my award and I will not stop expressing my views. Before becoming a journalist, I was a Palestinian living under military occupation and a strangling blockade. Today, I am enduring an internationally recognised genocide in Gaza.

My grandparents were expelled from Jerusalem upon the creation of the state of Israel, and I have been expelled from my home in Gaza during this genocide. 

If winning a prize requires enduring and witnessing war crimes while remaining silent, I am not honoured to receive any prizes. 

I will always be objective in my reporting, but I can never be neutral. I will always point out the perpetrators and stand in solidarity with the victims. This is what journalism is truly about.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Maha Hussaini is an award-winning journalist and human rights activist based in Gaza. Maha started her journalism career by covering Israel’s military campaign on the Gaza Strip in July 2014. In 2020, she won the prestigious Martin Adler Prize for her work as a freelance journalist.
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