Reporters Without Borders is facing sharp criticism for accepting a prize from a regime that murders journalists.
The group, often known by its French initials RSF, received the Dan David Prize for “defending democracy” earlier this month at a Tel Aviv University ceremony attended by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.
RSF’s director Christophe Deloire picked up the award on behalf of the group.
Hélène Le Gal, the French ambassador in Tel Aviv, called the award ceremony a “lovely evening”:
Elsa Lefort, a French human rights campaigner, said she was “speechless in the face of such cynicism.”
Lefort, the wife of Salah Hamouri, a Palestinian-French lawyer recently jailed by Israel for more than a year without charge or trial, added that her thoughts went out to “Palestinian journalists killed in Gaza, and those who languish in the occupier’s prisons.”
In February, an independent UN commission of inquiry found that Israeli snipers “intentionally shot” Palestinian journalists covering the Great March of Return protests in Gaza over the previous year.
Earlier this month, Murtaja’s mother Khairiya appealed to pop star Madonna not to perform at the Eurovision Song Contest.
“Yaser was a modest young man, peaceful, unarmed, carrying his camera to convey to the world the real picture of Israel on the borders of Gaza, which assassinates the dreams of children and young people,” she wrote.
“My son simply did not want to die, he was looking for life, he loved his job, he wanted to raise his son with dignity and freedom. Yaser loved his country, and he did not want to leave me.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists has called the killings of Murtaja and Abu Hussein “part of a pattern,” noting that no one has ever been held accountable for these and other Israeli killings of media workers.
The Gaza-based human rights organization Al Mezan has documented more than 230 attacks on journalists during the Great March of Return, 100 of them with live ammunition, and a similar number caused by tear gas canisters.
Hamza Abu Eltarabesh, a frequent contributor to this publication, recently told The Electronic Intifada Podcast that he stopped wearing a vest marked PRESS when covering the Gaza protests and just tried to blend into the crowd because the Israeli army was deliberately targeting so many journalists.
Earlier this month, Israeli warplanes targeted and destroyed the offices of Turkey’s Anadolu news agency in Gaza City.
Even Reporters Without Borders acknowledges that “Israeli forces continued to subject Palestinian journalists to arrest, interrogation and administrative detention, often without any clear grounds” and that in recent years Israeli occupation authorities have repeatedly shut down Palestinian media outlets.
The day after the award ceremony, Reporters Without Borders director Deloire himself accused Israel of “war crimes” against journalists.
“The fact that Reporters Without Borders received this prize sadly damages its credibility,” the French publication Agence Média Palestine observed.
“In effect, receiving a prize for ‘democracy’ in the presence of Reuven Rivlin, the president of the Israeli regime which last July passed the Nation-State Law officially instituting apartheid, does not help democracy, quite the contrary.”
Agence Média Palestine accused Reporters Without Borders of taking part in a propaganda exercise aimed at burnishing Israel’s image.
Palestinian campaigners have called on previous recipients to refuse to accept the Dan David Prize.
In 2010, for example, PACBI, the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel, told celebrated Canadian author Margaret Atwood that her acceptance of the prize would support a “well-oiled campaign to whitewash Israel’s grave violations of international law and basic human rights.”
The Handmaid’s Tale author defied Palestinian appeals and accepted the $1 million Dan David payout.
The Dan David Prize board includes Henry Kissinger, the American statesman notorious for a horrific array of crimes including masterminding the 1973 military coup in Chile and the genocidal bombing of Cambodia that killed 1.7 million people.