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Meet Maha Hussaini, Gaza Journalist Whose Courage Award Was Rescinded After Pro-Israel Smear Campaign

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We go to Gaza to speak with Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini after the International Women’s Media Foundation came under fire for rescinding its Courage in Journalism Award to her following a smear campaign. Hussaini is an award-winning journalist and human rights advocate who has extensively documented Israel’s war on Gaza since October, including reporting on the mass displacement of Palestinians while being repeatedly displaced herself. “This is not the first time, by the way, that I have been subjected to such smear campaigns,” says Hussaini, who recounts a career spent defending her work against attacks and intimidations from Israel and its supporters. Hussaini speaks to us from Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and reports on dire conditions there. “The war waged on the Gaza Strip is not a war against particular armed factions, but against the entire population of 2.3 million residents,” Hussaini says.

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Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

The International Women’s Media Foundation is under fire for rescinding its Courage in Journalism Award to the Gaza-based Palestinian journalist Maha Hussaini following a smear campaign led by the conservative website Washington Free Beacon and false accusations against Hussaini of antisemitism.

Maha Hussaini is an award-winning journalist, human rights advocate, who has worked for several outlets, including the Middle East Eye. One of her pieces published earlier this year uncovered Israeli field executions of Palestinians in Gaza City. She’s also extensively reported on the mass displacement of Palestinians across Gaza since October, including herself, and the agonizing conditions faced by Palestinian mothers struggling to feed their babies as Israel is accused of using starvation as a weapon of war. Maha Hussaini herself has been repeatedly displaced. In April, she attempted to return home in Gaza City as thousands of others risked their lives to head back north.

Many around the world have expressed their solidarity and support for Maha Hussaini, including the Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network, which said in a statement, quote, “We are extremely disappointed that IWMF took this decision, and we remain concerned for Maha’s safety. The Marie Colvin Journalists’ Network believes in freedom of speech, and that journalists in Gaza should have the same rights to express themselves as elsewhere in the world,” they wrote. Marie Catherine Colvin was a U.S. journalist killed while reporting on Syria’s war in 2012. She was reporting for British paper The Sunday Times.

Maha Hussaini also responded to the IWMF in an op-ed published in the Middle East Eye titled “You can take away my award but you won’t take away my voice,” in which she wrote, quote, “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,” Hussaini wrote.

She’s joining us now from Gaza, from Deir al-Balah.

We welcome you to Democracy Now! We know there’s a big delay in the broadcast sound. Maha Hussaini, can you share your response to this controversy, though there is overwhelming support for you, as well, being expressed by journalist organizations, and talk about what’s happening on the ground in Gaza where you are?

MAHA HUSSAINI: Well, I’m now in Deir al-Balah, particularly in Al-Aqsa, at the Al-Aqsa Hospital, where in the background there are actually dozens of victims arriving in the ongoing Israeli bombing while I’m speaking to you now.

My Courage in Journalism Award was rescinded for the very reason that I have been awarded. It was rescinded for speaking up against these violations or talking even as a Palestinian living under these conditions, under occupation and under a strangling blockade, and being displaced several times. Unfortunately, this is why we, as Palestinians, see the global media outlets, the Western media outlets, can be seen as complicit in the silencing of Palestinian journalists, because they always succumb to these pressures by the Israeli occupation or the perpetrators, in general.

This is not the first time, by the way, that I have been subjected to such smear campaigns and incitement campaigns. In 2020, I have won also the Martin Adler Prize by the Rory Peck Trust. And following the awarding of this prize, I was subjected to a large smear campaign by pro-Israelis on social media calling on the Rory Peck Trust to withdraw their prize to me. But this time, Rory Peck was courageous enough, and they did not succumb to this pressure.

But, unfortunately, 24 hours after this very campaign was launched on Wednesday, I woke up to the news that the IWMF has rescinded this award, without even referring to me or without informing me. I knew of this rescinding of this award on social media.

And this is why maybe Palestinian journalists are always intimidated. Many, many journalists across Palestine sometimes do not continue in this work because of the level of intimidation, not just physical attacks, particularly the targeted killing of Palestinians. We’re talking about 150 Palestinian journalists who have been killed since the beginning of this attack on Gaza. But this is not the only way Palestinians are targeted. There are many kinds of targeting that Palestinian journalists have been subjected to since — for decades. I have been working as a war reporter and journalist for around a decade. And over the past decade, I have been subjected to many smear campaigns, many attacks and many intimidations by both the Israeli occupation and the supporters of the perpetrators.

It’s not only me. It’s not about me. It’s not about Maha Hussaini. It’s about every Palestinian journalist working in the Palestinian territory and in Palestine in general. Last month, for example, a colleague journalist reported that he received a call from the Israeli army informing him in Arabic that if he did not stop recording the violations on the ground, they would kill him. And they hang up the phone. So, there are this systematic campaign, these systematic attacks against Palestinians to silence them. And this is why maybe we continue our work, because at the time when the perpetrators of human rights violations do not want these evidence to be seen, we have to continue reporting.

AMY GOODMAN: Maha, you’ve been repeatedly displaced by Israeli attacks in Gaza and have brought your cat Tom with you from shelter to shelter. In April, you shared a photo of Tom on social media with the words, quote, “Post fasting coffee with Tom on a window overlooking our displacement neighborhood in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip.. in the background is total darkness broken only by the dim glow of a mosque where a generator is run during prayer times.”

You’ve also written about Israeli executions of Palestinians. In December, you wrote about a piece describing Israeli mass executions in Gaza City. You wrote, quote, “For three days, Moemen Raed al-Khaldi lay wounded and motionless between the corpses of his killed family members, pretending to be dead to protect himself from being shot by Israeli soldiers. On 21 December, Israeli soldiers broke into the house where the Khaldi family had taken refuge in northern Gaza and, in mere minutes, they shot everyone present. The soldiers left the house thinking they had killed them all, only Moemen remained alive, bleeding for days before the neighbours found him and took him to hospital.” Can you explain this video and how the Israeli military responded?

MAHA HUSSAINI: Yes. This is actually one of the reports that were used in South Africa’s case against Israel, accusing it of committing genocide in the Gaza Strip. This is one of the cases, one of the dozens of cases or hundreds of cases of field executions against Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip. And this is why we say that the war waged on the Gaza Strip is not a war against particular armed factions, but against the entire population of 2.3 million residents.

And this is why maybe I think that Israel attempts to impose a blackout on the entire of the Gaza Strip and to ban international journalists and international inquiry crews from entering to investigate these crimes and these human rights violations. As I said, this is one of the cases I have reported on. I have reported on hundreds of cases, actually, of not just field execution, but also use of civilians as human shields, assaults against women, sexual assaults against women and men, as well. So, yes, we are talking about a wide range, scale of violations against Palestinian civilians. And that’s why Israel has been attempting, since the beginning of this attack, of imposing several blackouts on the Gaza Strip.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you describe what you wrote about just in the last week, starvation particularly in northern Gaza?

MAHA HUSSAINI: Yeah. Actually, I’ve been in touch with many people in northern Gaza. I am now in the central Gaza Strip. I have evacuated my home in northern Gaza, in Gaza City particularly, on the 13th of October. I have been forcibly displaced, actually, after my home — also my home was bombed back in October or in November. But I’m still in touch with people there in the north, who reported that they cannot find anything to eat. My friend, for example, in the north of Gaza City says that she cannot find anything to feed her toddler, who is actually in need, in severe need, of milk, of food, of nutrition. And he is now suffering malnutrition due to the severe starvation imposed by Israel.

Actually, Israel is imposing a collective punishment on the civilian population in the north of Gaza Strip. As you know, on the 13th of October, Israel issued forced evacuation orders to the residents in the whole of Gaza City and the northern Gaza Strip. Those who did not comply with these forced orders are now facing a collective punishment by Israel for not complying with these orders. And while Israel allows, under severe restrictions, the goods and the aid to enter the southern and the central parts of the Gaza Strip, it completely bans any kind of food and any kind of aid into the Gaza City, and we are talking about dozens of people who have died due to malnutrition. Only last week alone, four Palestinian children have died due to malnutrition at Kamal Adwan Hospital in the northern Gaza Strip. We are now talking about over 5,000 Palestinian children in the north of Gaza who are at risk of dying due to malnutrition.

So, this is particularly an Israeli systematic tool of war, which it has used to starve the Palestinian population and to push them to come to the southern parts of the Gaza Strip. I have testimonies from people there who reported to me that amid the starvation of the Gaza Strip and the Gaza City in particular, the Israeli army, at checkpoints — when they cross the checkpoints, the Israeli army and Israeli soldiers tell the residents that “If you want to eat, go to the south.” So, this is like a kind of intimidation and forced displacement tool for Palestinians, that if they want to really live, they have to evacuate, to forcibly evacuate their homes and comply with Israeli orders to go to the southern parts of the Gaza Strip.

And this is why I think that Israel is allowing aid into the southern Gaza Strip. It’s not only for the mere, like, benefit of the residents, because they have been bombing also residents who are allowed to get some food here in the southern Gaza Strip, but I think that this is kind of like —

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Maha Hussaini, we have to end it there.

MAHA HUSSAINI: — getting this chance for civilians to — just only to force them to move from the north, northern area —

AMY GOODMAN: But I thank you so much for being with us. And thank you for your courage. Maha Hussaini, award-winning independent journalist and activist based in Gaza, reporting to us from there.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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