Palestinian journalist Motaz Azaiza features on Time’s 100 most influential people of 2024

Published April 17, 2024
An image of Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza. — Time magazine
An image of Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza. — Time magazine

Independent Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza was named one of the ‘100 Most Influential People’ of 2024 by Time magazine on Wednesday for acting as the “world’s eyes and ears” during the ongoing Israeli military offensive that has decimated the Gaza Strip.

The list has highlighted the “influential people” under six categories: leaders, pioneers, artists, icons, innovators and titans.

Israel’s military campaign to eradicate Hamas has killed at least 33,899 people, mostly women and children, according to the health ministry in the besieged territory.

The fighting was sparked by the October 7 attack against Israel by Hamas that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, Israeli figures show. Several countries and international unions have criticised Israel’s response to the attack as “disproportionate”.

Meanwhile, at least 97 journalists and media workers, the majority being Palestinian at 92, have been killed since Israel began its retaliatory attacks on the strip, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) reports.

“Journalists in Gaza face particularly high risks as they try to cover the conflict during the Israeli ground assault, including devastating Israeli airstrikes, disrupted communications, supply shortages and extensive power outages,” the CPJ notes.

Amid all this, Azaiza extensively documented the impact of the fighting, Israeli aggression and wide-scale destruction of Gaza for over 100 days.

The freelance photographer, who was forced onto the frontlines by the horrors of the conflict as most foreign reporters were denied access to Gaza, gained global attention when he recorded himself wearing a press vest and helmet to report on the conditions during the fighting in Israel.

His coverage often took the form of raw, unfiltered videos about injured children or people crushed under rubble in the aftermath of Israeli aggression.

Azaiza’s Instagram account was a transition of how a city went from lights and joy to death, grief and loss.

He evacuated Gaza in January and is now in Doha, Qatar.

Time said that “for 108 days, Motaz Azaiza acted as the world’s eyes and ears in his native Gaza. Armed with a camera and a flak jacket marked ‘press’, the 25-year-old Palestinian photographer spent nearly four months documenting life under Israeli bombardment.”

It said that his photographs offered a glimpse into Gaza that “few in the international press … could rival”, adding that he did so at “great risk”.

The magazine said that since his evacuation, Azaiza had moved to raising awareness of the crisis and calling for international intervention.

“What is happening in Gaza is not content for you,” he was quoted as saying by the magazine. “We are not telling you what is happening … for your likes or views or shares. No, we are waiting for you to act. We need to stop this war.”

Reacting to his inclusion, Azaiza said: “I am really blessed to share my country name with me wherever I go or whatever I achieve.

“For those who don’t recognise Palestine as a state, or for those who claim that it is their land, Palestine gonna be free one day from Zionists and occupation,” he said, adding that his “part is not done yet”.

Since the beginning of the fighting, the photojournalist has gathered millions of followers on various platforms. According to social media analytics by Al Jazeera, his Instagram following surged from approximately 27,500 to 18.25 million in over 100 days since October 7.

Similarly, his Facebook account, starting from a comparable number, expanded to nearly 500,000 followers. On X, he now boasts a following of 1m.

Born and raised in the Deir Al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza, he completed his studies in English Language and Literature at Al-Azhar University, a place that rests in shattered remnants due to Israeli airstrikes. He faced unemployment for a brief period post-graduation, therefore he created his Instagram account to show his land and its people in a positive light.

However, he did document Israel’s aggression in both 2014 and 2021.

Amidst bloodshed and deaths, he also recorded the resilience of Gazans. In one of his videos, journalists could be seen sitting around the table excited to have a traditional Palestinian meal.

Azaiza gained global recognition from international publications like Time, GQ and Vogue Arabia. GQ Middle East honoured him as the 2023 Man of the Year. Vogue Arabia‘s November 2023 issue paid tribute to Azaiza amid Gaza’s humanitarian crisis. Time previously featured one of his photographs in its annual top 10 photos list.

Qatari PM lands in list for role in Gaza ceasefire negotiations

Meanwhile, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, who is the minister of foreign affairs as well, also landed on the list.

“The kingdoms of the Persian Gulf prosper by providing the world oil and gas, and the resulting fortunes fuel desires for prestige. Tiny Qatar, by hosting the 2022 World Cup, showed just how much attention that can bring. A year later, it earned a more sober prominence, emerging as trusted interlocutor between Israel and Hamas,” the magazine said, adding that the Qatari premier had “ridden point” on negotiations so far which had yielded a weeklong cease-fire and the release of more than 100 hostages.

“Everyone, unfortunately, is dancing at the edge,” he was quoted as saying by the magazine about the situation in the Middle East.

Others who have made the list are Chinese Prime Minister Li Qiang, World Bank President Ajay Banga, Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and women’s rights activist Narges Mohammadi and Yulia Navalnaya, widow of deceased Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

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