Israel's Gaza offensive not a war but a genocide: Prize-winning photojournalist

Israel's Gaza offensive not a war but a genocide: Prize-winning photojournalist

Mahmoud Hams, who won 1st prize in the Story News category of the 10th Istanbul Photo Awards, tells of difficult daily life of journalists in Gaza

By Faruk Hanedar

ISTANBUL (AA) - Israel’s months-long offensive on the Gaza Strip, wreaking havoc and killing and injuring over 100,000 people, is in fact not a war but a genocide, said a photojournalist who has been working in Gaza for nearly a quarter-century.

The journalists chronicling the death and destruction in the Gaza Strip are also facing “very difficult conditions and suffer,” said Agence France Presse (AFP) photojournalist Mahmoud Hams, winner of the Istanbul Photo Awards, an international news photography competition organized by Anadolu.

Mahmoud Hams, who won first prize in the Story News category of the 2024 Istanbul Photo Awards – its 10th annual edition – spoke about the terrible conditions in Gaza.

Hams, who has worked in the Gaza Strip for 23 years, covering numerous conflicts and demonstrations, said of the current Israeli offensive: "It's not just a war, it's a genocide. I've covered many conflicts, but I've never seen such actions, such a war, such a crime. Too many people have been killed. Too many children have lost their lives.”

On life as a journalist in Gaza, he said: "We are also suffering because the situation is very dangerous. The situation is very bad. There’s no food, no water, no communication, no safe space. There are no guarantees for journalists. We have lost many friends and colleagues in Gaza.”

Explaining that he was able to keep in touch with the outside world because he works for an international news agency, Hams noted that during the eighth month of Israeli attacks on Gaza, there was no electricity or communication where he was, and journalists had to sleep in hospitals and climb tall buildings to get an internet signal.

Flouting a UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate cease-fire, Israel has faced international condemnation over its brutal offensive on Gaza since an attack last October by Hamas.

More than 37,200 Palestinians have since been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, and more than 84,900 others injured, according to local health authorities.

Eight months into the Israeli war, vast tracts of Gaza lie in ruins amid a crippling blockade of food, clean water and medicine.

Israel stands accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, whose latest ruling ordered Tel Aviv to immediately halt its operation in the southern city of Rafah, where over a million Palestinians had sought refuge from the war before it was invaded in May.


- Photos tell more than words

A photo is more effective than a thousand words, said Hams.

"You know that I am Palestinian. I was born in Gaza, this is my cause. I have to fight to take photos, to send a message to the whole world, to report what’s happening on the ground with photos. Because a photo is better than a letter addressed to everyone," he said.

Telling how Mohammed Alaloul, an Anadolu cameraman, lost most of his family in Israeli attacks last November, Hams explained that he too lost his house, his office, and members of his own family in Gaza, saying that he misses them dearly.

Hams also spoke about the iconic "wheelchair man" photo he took in 2018.

"He comes to convey a message," he said of the subject of the photo, mentioning how at that time, there were regular protests in the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel.

"With this photo, many people asked the question of how a man in a wheelchair finds this courage," Hams said.

On the subjects of his photos, he said: "I collected photos from different places, but I focused on families and buildings, because during this war, Israel targeted too many homes and killed too many civilians. This is a very important thing.”

He added: “This is the main thing we should focus on because most of the Palestinian victims are civilians, children, and women. We see it in the photos, we can imagine it.”


-Istanbul Photo Awards

Hams also urged photojournalists to participate in the Istanbul Photo Awards.

"I think this is a very important award. Journalists from all over the world make sure to participate in this competition because it has become very prestigious. This is the second time I’ve won this award," he added.

Reuters photojournalist Mohammed Salem, winner of the Photo of the Year award in the Single News category, was unable to attend the ceremony because Israel refused him permission. His brother, Suhaib Salem, visual editor of Reuters Gaza, who received the award on his behalf, spoke to Anadolu about the Istanbul Photo Awards and his brother's award-winning photo.

"I am here on behalf of Mohammed Salem, who won the award. He is currently in Gaza and unfortunately cannot attend the ceremony. He sent me a message to thank you for your hospitality, the ceremony, and the prize,” said Salem.

Salem said he wished that his brother's photo would be the one to end the war and pressed for peace.

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