The unsung hero: Meeting Motaz Azaiza, Gaza's window to the world
Like me, Motaz Hilal Azaiza was born and raised in Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza.
Motaz was never intent on fame growing up. He graduated from Al-Azhar University of Gaza in 2021 with a degree in English Language and Literature; the same university that has now been reduced to rubble by Israel's current aggression.
The Palestinian photographer was one of thousands of graduates in Gaza who struggled to find inspiration after graduating, due to the high unemployment rate in Gaza.
Yet, for as long as he can remember, he loved photography so he started a page on Instagram, mainly taking pictures of everyday life in Gaza.
Gradually, his page started to gain traction, but, in Gaza, the threat of war is constant.
Motaz was compelled to cover Israel's 2014 and 2021 aggressions. However, despite his efforts to show the plight of Gaza to the world, his photos were relatively unnoticed.
"No one is safe, nowhere is safe, and fear is everywhere. Either I stay at home or I go outside. Why should I stay at home? I have to stand up and show the world the truth through the camera lens"
On October 7, Motaz's Instagram page only had 25,000 followers. Now, Motaz Azaiza has over 13 million. But, as Motaz explains to The New Arab, these numbers mean nothing: only his family and the people of Gaza do.
The world comes to see the truth through Motaz's coverage of Gaza. He's not only a photographer but a shining light of Palestinian resilience to the world.
More than ever, he is determined to continue exposing Israel's impending genocide.
"No one is safe, nowhere is safe, and fear is everywhere. Either I stay at home or I go outside. Why should I stay at home? I have to stand up and show the world the truth through the camera lens," Motaz says.
Throughout the last month, the Israeli occupation has committed unspeakable crimes against Gaza, with the death toll from Israel's bombardment now reaching 10,328, including 4,237 children.
Every day, Motaz is left horrified. "Not everyone knows about Gaza, the Palestinian cause, the Israeli occupation, and our current plight. That's why I'm here with my camera," Motaz tells The New Arab with vigour.
The Palestinian photographer is no stranger to grief himself, having lost 15 relatives in an Israeli airstrike on his house.
"I am devastated," he tells The New Arab. "I cannot express how difficult it was to receive the news. I am mortified."
Like thousands of those killed, Motaz explains that none of his family has anything to do with Hamas — yet most mainstream Western media outlets seem to want to ask any official, activist or journalist trying to tell the world about Israel's atrocities whether they condemn Hamas, or know Hamas.
"The Palestinians are and have been oppressed for 75 years. The world must know our struggle. I am not connected with Hamas. I love life and love to live it my way. I do not want Gaza and Palestine to be a place of forever conflict"
Motaz also tells us of Abu Al-Said, the beloved community nurse of Deir Al-Balah, who was killed.
"He was the heartbeat of the camp, everyone loved him... Tell me, why was he killed?" Motaz exclaimed.
Motaz also spoke of the sudden switch in his photos, from beautiful pictures of Gaza's scenery and the love-filled streets to tortured families and broken homes.
"It's so cruel to even imagine it," he said. "It was a paradise, now it is hell. I desperately dream of the days before, when I documented my people and my land. That's all I can think about at the moment.
"I miss taking photographs of children playing on the swings, the elderly smiling, families gathering, the sights of nature and the sea, my beautiful Gaza. I miss all of that, and it pains me to remember it."
Now Motaz is grief-stricken and mentally drained. "I am destroyed. I cannot talk about it. Unfortunately, Israel's aggression against Gaza has dragged me into a dark place."
Besides the safety of his family, Motaz makes sure that he can continue to work. He's keen to seize every second of Israel's genocide in Gaza. Yet he remains responsible for food, water, gas, and his family's basic needs. This drives him.
"I feel happy when people share and react to my pictures. The Palestinians are and have been oppressed for 75 years. The world must know our struggle. I am not connected with Hamas. I love life and love to live it my way. I do not want Gaza and Palestine to be a place of forever conflict."
In concluding Motaz Azaiza's interview with The New Arab, he has a message for the world: "We need someone from outside to stand, to literally stand, in the face of Israel and stop the genocide.
"We are totally burnt out. We have bled enough, more than enough. We have lost a lot. We pray for normality, that is it. That's why I'm calling for an immediate ceasefire. People in Gaza cannot bear it anymore," Motaz finishes.
Like every Palestinian in Gaza documenting Israel's atrocities, Motaz Azaiza is more than a journalist, he's an inspiration for all oppressed peoples and communities with a conscience.
In the space of a month, he's become Gaza's unsung hero and a beacon of truth in Gaza.
Through his efforts, we pray that there will be peace soon.
Abubaker Abed is a Palestinian journalist, writer, and translator from the Deir al-Balah Refugee Camp in Gaza
Follow him on Twitter/X: @AbubakerAbedW