News & Commentary

Palestinian Photojournalist Motaz Azaiza receives Communicator Award while trapped in Gaza under Israeli bombardment

“I’m filming now from the car. I don’t even have connection to upload this video...”

24-year-old Palestinian photojournalist Motaz Azaiza won the TRT World Citizen Communicator Award on Friday in Istanbul, Turkey, but at least one important person was missing from the ceremony: Motaz Azaiza.

That’s because, like millions of other Palestinians, he has been—and remains—trapped under an intense, genocidal bombardment at the hands of the US-funded Israeli military for over a hundred days and counting.

Nevertheless, he was able to pre-record an acceptance speech in a car in Gaza, which was played for the audience after a short video montage about his life and accomplishments.

His friend Laila Mokhiber—Director of Communications for UNRWA USA—flew to Istanbul to accept the award on his behalf.


Transcript of Motaz’s acceptance speech:

Hello TRT World Citizenship Awards. I’m Motaz Azaiza. I want to thank you for the Communicator Award. I appreciate it so much.

And, if you are watching this video, I will not be able to be with you, because I couldn’t make it to evacuate or to leave from Gaza Strip due to the occupation limitation on the traveling.

So, I’m so sorry, I’m sorry for myself, I wish to be with you and to receive this award with my hands.

I want to thank you all; to thank everyone who appreciate anyone under the hellfire in Gaza Strip. We’ve been doing our work since day one of this war (…) It’s been now like 104 days, and we’re sorry ’til now it didn’t stop. But hopefully it stops soon.

I don’t have many words to say, but I wish to give this award to ANYONE, to EVERYONE, who filmed, who speak, who wrote about what is happening here.

To the journalists who lost their lives while they are on their duty working to cover and to show the world the hell that we are getting from the occupation.

I wish I can mention ALL the names of the journalists and the people who lost their lives while they are showing the world the truth. I wish them all to rest in peace, and I wish this war to end soon.

Again, I’m so sorry it’s not something [with] my hands; it’s because the occupation, I couldn’t make it. I’m filming now from the car. I don’t even have connection to upload this video. I’ll try my best to upload it, to send it. Even uploading a video is a suffer here in Gaza Strip.

And, thank you all. I wish this ends soon. I wish the whole world to live in peace without wars; without occupation; without suffering.

Thank you all.

Laila Mokhiber’s speech:

Good evening and thank you. I’m Laila Mokhiber, and I’ve traveled from Washington, D.C. for just 24 hours to honor tonight’s award winner—excuse my emotions—my dear friend Motaz.

He’s watching you right now via the live YouTube link from the rooftop of his house. Hopefully he stays safe while doing so.

And I don’t know how, but he chose me to be here.

I met Motaz professionally about a year ago and he’s become one of the most precious people in my life.

And, like you, most of you, since October, I check my phone daily—morning and night—to see his updates.

Motaz and I have only met through screens, but from the first moment we interacted I knew that he was someone special.

And who could have predicted that—just a year later, tragically—as a result of the last 104 days, he could become a world-renowned photojournalist, with nearly 20 million followers.

Motaz is now a name the whole world knows.

Despite all this, he remains a quintessential Palestinian: kind, caring, genuine, creative, smart, talented, resourceful, and passionate; most of all, steadfast.

Motaz is a dreamer. He’s never been to Turkey. He’s never been allowed anywhere outside of Gaza except for one brief trip to Egypt, where he got his camera equipment.

He’s not even yet had the chance to visit other parts of Palestine.

That’s life under a total air, sea, and land blockade.

When he mentioned this award to me, I told him if he were able to get out of Gaza I would come here to cheer him on and celebrate him. It would be the first time we would ever meet in person.

He even told me he’d pay for my flight.

Clearly I’d never accept this offer, but it was such a kind gesture. It’s the kind of generous soul that he is.

Every Palestinian is like this.

This means so much to Motaz. And here I am now standing to accept the award at his request because, like he said in his video, he remains trapped under siege— under constant airstrikes— for the last 104 days. And still we have yet to meet.

Being here feels strange. It’s unjust. It highlights the disparities between our two different places of birth.

I know I speak for him when I say he doesn’t want to have 20 million followers or to win awards for documenting the erasure of his people; the total destruction of the world he knows.

Motaz wants to be free.

His dream has always been to travel the world and document its beauty. Why should this young man—a tender 24-year-old—or ANY human, not be able to do that?

I know you’re watching this Motaz—my dear Motaz; I’m deeply humbled you asked me to be here in your place. You have changed the world forever.

Let’s all continue to actively advocate for him and the people of Gaza.

As I said, Motaz desires freedom, not fame.

Motaz: Your freedom is coming, and I eagerly await the day that we finally meet.

Alf Mabrouk. ألف مبروك

Thank you

Narration from the video montage:

Born and raised in the Deir al-Balah refugee camp in Gaza, Motaz Azaiza is no stranger to the violence of the Israeli regime.

As a young photographer living under the crushing reality of Israeli oppression, he struggled to find inspiration.

He started a page on Instagram displaying his photographs of the everyday lives of Palestinians.

But in Gaza, the threat of war is constant.

In 2014 and 2021, Motaz felt compelled to cover Israel’s acts of aggression against the Palestinian people, but his work went largely unnoticed.

But, on October the 7th, 2023, everything changed.

In recent weeks, as Israel has carried out its worst campaign of genocide since the Nakba in 1948, Motaz has emerged as global figure, a vehicle of resistance, and the embodiment of hope for the people of Gaza.

Since the beginning of Israel’s latest war against Gaza, Motaz has taken an unflinching look at the difficult realities on the ground for the Palestinian people, showing the terrible human impacts of the violence.

And this time the world has taken notice. Amidst media blackouts, the destruction of communications infrastructure, and an unrelenting propaganda campaign from the Israeli government, Motaz has managed to garner the world’s attention, cutting through the fog of war.

His videos have received millions of views, and Motaz has become a source of truth for people around the world about the horrific crimes being committed against Palestinians in Gaza.

His Instagram page has exploded to over 17 1/2 million followers.

Motaz and his work represents the dedication, fearlessness, and the unbreakable spirit of many journalists in Palestine; those who have risked and sometimes lost their lives—and the lives of loved ones—in order to continue sharing the truth with the world; the ones we know, and the many others whose names the world will never know.

The work of Motaz and his peers are a testament to the power of digital activism, and their bravery is a stark reminder that ordinary people have the capacity to do extraordinary things.

More than journalists, they are storytellers, guardians of truth, champions of justice, and a voice for the voiceless.

Their unwavering commitment to capturing the essence of the Palestinian struggle reminds us that we must ALL have the courage to do what is right, no matter the circumstance and no matter the cost.

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