Israel decries top US award for Gazan NYT photographer, alleging he has Hamas ties

Foreign Ministry writes to George Polk judges over award for Yousef Masoud; Times slams ‘false claims’ and ‘smear campaign’ against Masoud, who was not working for it on October 7

Gazans celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the broken Israel-Gaza border fence, east of Khan Younis, October 7, 2023. (AP/Yousef Masoud)
Gazans celebrate by a destroyed Israeli tank at the broken Israel-Gaza border fence, east of Khan Younis, October 7, 2023. (AP/Yousef Masoud)

Israel’s Foreign Ministry slammed the committee of a prestigious US award on Friday for handing a top prize to a Palestinian photojournalist who, it claimed, has public connections to Hamas and knew in advance of Hamas’s plans to attack Israel on October 7.

Photographer Yousef Masoud won the George Polk award for photojournalism this week for photographs of the Israel-Hamas conflict since it erupted with the shock Hamas assault on Israel on October 7, which began with barrages of early-morning rockets aimed at southern and central Israel as terrorists invaded and went on a killing spree that claimed the lives of 1,200 people, mostly civilians. Terrorists also took 253 hostages into Gaza on that day.

“The award for Photojournalism goes to Samar Abu Elouf and Yousef Masoud of The New York Times for chronicling Israel’s bombardment and invasion of their homeland, Gaza,” the committee announced. “The two photographed the conflict from its opening hours on Oct. 7 until they escaped the territory exactly two months later. Under harrowing circumstances, they captured gripping and unforgettable images. Of frightened children looking skyward toward an Israeli plane. Of bodies pulled from the rubble of flattened buildings. Of a little boy touching the bloodied face of his dead baby sister. And of the chaos of hospitals overwhelmed by dazed, gravely injured patients.”

Itay Milner, a spokesperson for the Consulate General of Israel in New York, wrote a letter to the award committee at Long Island University, first cited by Ynet News on Friday, “to express grave concern over your 2024 George Polk Award selections.”

Milner, in his letter, said “equally troubling is the specific awarding of Yousef Masoud, whose public connections to Hamas and well-documented foreknowledge of the terror group’s plans for invasion mortally compromise the integrity of his reporting.”

“By honoring Masoud, the George Polk Awards endorse a journalist whose work is deeply tainted, sending a dangerous message that journalistic recognition can be altogether divorced from any semblance of ethics. Masoud was intimately tied to a vicious terror group designated as such by the US, the EU and much of the civilized world,” he went on.

“Awarding those complicit with crimes against humanity crushes the George Polk Awards’ reputation as an authority on journalistic integrity, and raises dire moral questions about turning a blind eye to acts of great evil. You must not allow the mores and pressures of our time to cloud your moral compass,” Milner wrote, urging the committee to reconsider.

Masoud was one of four Gazan photojournalists included in a November report by pro-Israel watchdog group Honest Reporting that showed that photographers used by the AP, Reuters, The New York Times and CNN provided images taken as the attack was ongoing from the border area and from inside Israel — intimating they may have had advance knowledge of the assault. Masoud “was there as well — just in time to set foot in Israeli territory and take more tank pictures,” the watchdog group said.

The New York Times denied that Masoud, whose photographs of an Israeli tank captured by Hamas were used by the newspaper and AP, knew of the attack ahead of time. His first photographs that day were filed 90 minutes after the devastating onslaught began at around 6:30 a.m.

The Times rejected suggestions that it had advance warning of the attacks or had accompanied Hamas terrorists, calling the claims “untrue and outrageous.” It also said there was “no evidence for Honest Reporting’s insinuations” about Masoud.

While Masoud has worked as a freelancer for The Times since shortly after the war began, and “has done important work for us,” the New York Times also said at the time of the Honest Reporting report, he was not on assignment for the paper on the morning of Oct. 7.

“The accusation that anyone at The New York Times had advance knowledge of the Hamas attacks or accompanied Hamas terrorists during the attacks is untrue and outrageous,” the paper said. “It is reckless to make such allegations, putting our journalists on the ground in Israel and Gaza at risk. The Times has extensively covered the Oct. 7 attacks and the war with fairness, impartiality, and an abiding understanding of the complexities of the conflict.”

The Times said it had reviewed Masoud’s work for The Associated Press on Oct. 7 and determined that “he was doing what photojournalists always do during major news events, documenting the tragedy as it unfolded.”

The paper specified: “In its review of Mr. Masoud’s work, editors at The Times determined that the first photo he transmitted to the AP — of the destroyed Israeli tank — was taken more than 90 minutes after the attack began, according to an editor at The Times who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an internal matter. Mr. Masoud told his editors, this person said, that he was woken at home in Khan Younis, in southern Gaza, by the sound of rocket fire, shortly after 6:30 a.m. on Saturday morning.

“Mr. Masoud said he later made his way to the border, where he saw the fence had been breached and that an Israeli tank had been destroyed. He told Times editors, the person said, that he did not linger in Israel and did not photograph abductees or acts of brutality by Hamas fighters.”

On Saturday, the Times published a letter it sent to Milner, in which it slammed him for repeating provably false claims about Masoud. “You do a disservice to your office and to the public by joining in what is nothing more than a smear campaign,” it charged.

Honest Reporting listed Hassan Eslaiah, Ali Mahmud and Hatem Ali, in addition to Masoud, in its November report.

Palestinians from the Gaza Strip enter Kibbutz Nir Oz on Oct. 7, 2023, amid a massive assault by the Hamas terror group. (AP/Hassan Eslaiah)

Eslaiah, according to the report, crossed the border into Israel on October 7 and took pictures of a burning IDF tank. He also photographed attackers entering Kibbutz Kfar Aza, where dozens of civilians were massacred. The report said that in now-removed tweets posted to his X feed, Eslaiah was seen in front of the tank but not wearing a press vest that would identify him as a member of the media.

The report also raised questions about the relationship between some of the photographers and the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza. Eslaiah appeared in a photo from 2020 being kissed by Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar. Eslaiah posted the photo on January 9, 2020.

Mahmud and Ali both took pictures of people being abducted from Israel into Gaza.

Palestinian terrorists abduct an Israeli grandmother, later identified as Yaffa Adar, from Kibbutz Nir Oz into the Gaza Strip, October 7, 2023. (AP/Hatem Ali)

Honest Reporting later said it was simply “raising questions” by publicly wondering whether Palestinian photojournalists who documented the assault and sent some of the first images had been tipped off in advance.

This week, Eslaiah became the focus of a new lawsuit filed against The Associated Press by survivors and families of victims of Hamas’s attack on the Supernova music festival on October 7, when terrorists massacred 360 people in and around the event.

The plaintiffs, dual Israeli-US nationals and Americans who attended the music festival at Kibbutz Re’im on October 7, accused the news agency of being complicit in the Palestinian terror group’s murderous rampage by working with freelance photojournalists they believe were embedded with the terrorists that day.

AP said the case was “baseless.”

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