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'I will remain here as a thorn in Israel's throat,' says photojournalist in Gaza

Photojournalist, Momen Faiz, who uses a wheelchair, has been speaking to L'Orient Today from northern Gaza about how he is risking his life to document the reality of the war.

'I will remain here as a thorn in Israel's throat,' says photojournalist in Gaza

Momen Faiz in Gaza. (Credit: Momen_Faiz/Instagram)

BEIRUT — “I've lost count of how many times death has been close to me,” 36-year-old photojournalist, Momen Faiz, from Gaza, told L’Orient Today. He speaks to us via voice notes sent from a hospital in which he is sheltering in the northern part of the enclave. He is there with his wife, Dima, and four kids: Jana, Sanaa, Hanaa and Mohamed.

In his wheelchair, with a camera in hand, he navigates through the rubble of parts of almost-flattened northern Gaza. He goes to the site of almost every Israeli strike to document the war.

Momin Faiz at a site of an attack. (Credit: @Momen_Faiz/Instagram)

Challenges of working as a journalist in Gaza

Operating as a journalist in Gaza is anything but normal. “I spent many months on end without any signal at all on my phone or any internet connection; this made me unable to send the dire photos coming out of the north, but whenever I received a signal, I would post it on my social media platforms," Faiz said.

“Despite the fact that the Israeli army has tried to cut us off from the world, they have been persistent in contacting us via messages asking for information about the Israeli hostages and for information … [about] any Hamas members' locations. So when Israel opens the signal to send those messages, and tries to call us, we usually, the journalists, send our images and videos out to the world, to news agencies, influencers, activists, and post them on social media. We take this small window,” Faiz said. He once even tried to use an Israeli sim card in areas close to the Israeli settlements in order to get a connection on his phone.

Answering L'Orient Today's question on if there's anyway he can keep himself safe, he says: "Don’t hold a camera or wear a helmet or press vest; basically, the opposite of what you should do anywhere else in the world.” As of May 17, 2024, the Committee to Protect Journalists' preliminary investigations showed at least 105 journalists and media workers were among the more than 36,000 killed in Gaza since the war began on Oct. 7.

“I have received many threats and personal calls from the Israeli army telling me to ‘immediately leave northern Gaza and head to the south’ and to stop taking pictures, insisting on me that I ‘will definitely be targeted along with my family,’ but I tried my best to be tactical in my work," Faiz explained. 

Survivors of the strike on Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza on Oct. 17. (Credit: AFP)

“It’s very dangerous and comes at a high price: my life, my safety, and my children’s safety. But is it worth it? Definitely. In our fight and struggle against the occupation, sacrifices have to be made. I’m willing to make them,” Faiz said.

Faiz does usually does not work at night because it is hard to get around in his wheelchair in the dark. His day starts with him trying to locate the areas that were bombed during the night “when the battles are most fierce.” He then heads to the site to take photos and talk to people. 

His contacts across the strip, people he has met over the years —  whose stories he has coverered, both the good and the bad — sometimes send him photos from targeted locations.

“When an area is being badly bombed, I wouldn't head there and start taking pictures; I would ask residents of the area to immediately send me photos and I would start sharing them, sending them, and circulating them, with a few sentences on the situation. And I need to rush because I know that after and during fierce bombardments, the signal would be cut off,” he says.

Photo posted on Momen Faiz's Instagram before the war captioned: "Working on a report in the middle of nature." (Credit: @Momen_Faiz/Instagram)

Faiz was one of the first journalists to arrive at the scene after a deadly blast killed more than 500 people at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital in Gaza, on Oct. 17, 10 days after the war began. The Hamas-controlled Palestinian authorities in Gaza immediately blamed Israel, claiming it was a deliberate airstrike. Israel denied involvement and claimed a misfiring rocket from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad group was to blame — an allegation the latter denies.

“To this day, with everything I’ve seen, that night in the hospital was the hardest night for me as a photojournalist since Oct.7,” Faiz said.

Faiz has also resigned to taking pictures on his phone sometimes instead of his camera to avoid being noticeable as a photojournalist. He himself was wounded in an Israeli attack while working in 2008, leading to the amputation of both his legs. In 2009, he traveled to Saudi Arabia for treatment and dedicated his life to showcasing the “true face of the occupation to the world.”

Since 2008, he has been to tens of countries and exhibited his photos in countries around the world, including Qatar, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia. In May 2021, his photography company was targeted during the Israeli attack on the strip during a major outbreak of violence between Israel and Hamas, which was triggered by a Supreme Court of Israel decision to evict six Palestinian families in the illegally annexed East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Palestinian Hamas Islamist movement in the Gaza Strip, taking part in a military parade to commemorate in May 2021, after the end of the attack on strip by Israel. (Credit: Momen_Faiz/Instagram)

Staying to protect his home

“I’m a resident of northern Gaza. I’m trying my best not to be displaced very far away from my land and my home. The further away one tries to flee from his land, the harder it will be to come back to it and history has proven this. Many people have followed the instructions to flee to what the Israeli occupation forces marked as a safe zone, but really nowhere is safe in Gaza,” Faiz tells L’Orient Today.

Faiz had decided to remain in the north “to protect many things.” According to him, when he, along with other families, did not evacuate the north and defied the instructions of the Israeli army, they “protected many areas that the occupation did not target; we also did not want to repeat the exodus of 1948 and 1967.”

Momen Faiz overlooking his house that was destroyed at the end of October 2023 by the Israeli army. (Credit: @Momin_Faiz/Instagram)

He says his house, once located on Shejaiya Street, on a hill near the main Salah al-Din Road that runs north-south throughout the Gaza Strip, was burned down by Israel before it was bombed. He says he came across images and videos on social media of Israeli soldiers who had apparently decided to spend a few days in his house.

“They rummaged through my things — the photos that were used in photo exhibitions across the world, some of the many international awards I had won while exhibiting my work in several countries across the world, my books, certificates, and photography equipment were all abruptly set on fire,” Faiz said.

“The soldiers burned our family pictures too, yet we consider that every day is a new day. I will make new exhibitions, take new photos, and my kids and wife and I will make new memories and take new photos. After all, we are Palestinians; that’s what we do,” Faiz said.

 “I’m still steadfast in northern Gaza; I will remain here as a thorn in Israel's throat,” he added.

"I never thought of evacuating or leaving — and leaving it to who? To the Israelis, to come live here and continue their settler expansion?” he concluded. 

BEIRUT — “I've lost count of how many times death has been close to me,” 36-year-old photojournalist, Momen Faiz, from Gaza, told L’Orient Today. He speaks to us via voice notes sent from a hospital in which he is sheltering in the northern part of the enclave. He is there with his wife, Dima, and four kids: Jana, Sanaa, Hanaa and Mohamed.In his wheelchair, with a camera in hand, he...