By Middle East Affairs
Before he was shot and killed while covering protests on the Gaza-Israel border last week, a Palestinian journalist had been approved for a United States grant to support his new media company, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.
Yaser Murtaja, 30, cofounded the production company Palestinian Ain Media and worked as its cameraman. Last Friday, while covering the “Great March of Return” protests near the border fence in Gaza, Israeli troops shot him. He was wearing a navy-blue protective vest marked “PRESS” in large capital letters. The Israeli military maintains that it does not intentionally target journalists. The Israeli Defense Force does, however, have the order to prioritize that no one crosses or damages the border, which has led to 32 unarmed Palestinians shot and killed since the protests began.
Reuters said the United States has not yet commented on Murtaja’s shooting.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had approved $11,700 in grant funding for Ain Media last month “under a program that supports private sector development.”
The official also said the grant was for technical assistance and equipment, such as computers.
State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a press briefing that Murtaja had been cleared under U.S. government guidelines.
“We are aware of reports that a journalist operating in Gaza was killed in the clashes in Gaza. I don’t have specifics about his particular case, but we are looking into it,” Nauert said.
The Israeli government says most of those killed in the protests were militants from Hamas, the armed group in control of Gaza, which Israel is accusing of using the protests as a way to rile up violence.
When reporters asked Nauert whether U.S. government guidelines would allow a member of Hamas to receive USAID funding, she said, “I don’t know the specifics of the case.”
Reuters said she repeated calls by Washington for “a peaceful dialogue” between Israel and Palestine.
“Certainly the events of the past week and a half have been very troubling,” she said.