Palestinian Photographer Motaz Azaiza Reflects on War and Fame

Motaz Azaiza
Motaz Azaiza

A Palestinian photographer who rose to fame for his raw imagery from inside Gaza has reflected on his new-found celebrity since being evacuated from his war-stricken home.

Before the October 7 Hamas attacks and the subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza, Motaz Azaiza had around 27,500 Instagram followers. Since then, the photojournalist has grown his following to 18.6 million.

His unflinching photos are often graphic — frequently showing the wounded and dead. Instagram often slap a “Sensitive content” warning on many of his posts that incorporate raw mobile phone footage capturing the horrific realities of war.

“With my phone, I can show you everything,” Azaiza tells The New York Times. “This is my country. I did this for my family. I did this for Gaza, to show the world without any filters, without any lies.”

Azaiza says he is now regularly stopped in the streets by people who recognize him and want a selfie. He is currently living in a hotel room in Qatar, something he says “feels strange.”

The photographer gave a round of media interviews recently where he expressed hopelessness saying that his endeavors are “all worthless” because nothing has changed.

“We are talking about the UN’s highest court and it wasn’t even able to make Israel suspend its airstrikes or call for a permanent ceasefire,” he tells The Guardian.

Azaiza says that he found his passion for photography when he was 16 years old (he is 25 now) and found it to be a therapeutic hobby.

“I always dreamed of being a travel photographer. I wish I reached people with my beautiful pictures of Gaza, not with our suffering,” he says.

“I didn’t want to be a war photojournalist. But you don’t have the option, you don’t have the freedom to choose.”

Azaiza says that he was operating with a “damaged camera body and lens” while documenting the war which he says is “unlike anything we’ve ever experienced” despite living through numerous Israeli offensives.

He also says that the Israel Defense Force (IDF) deliberately targets journalists. The Committee to Protect Journalists says at least 83 members of the media have been killed in Gaza since October 7. An investigation by Reuters news agency found that an Israeli tank crew was responsible for killing one of its visual journalists in southern Lebanon.

“Journalists were like the most targeted people,” he says while speculating that perhaps his huge Instagram following may have protected him.

Israel denies targeting journalists and says it “takes all feasible measures to mitigate harm to civilians.”

Image credits: Photographs by Motaz Azaiza