Award 'spits in the face of terrorist organization's victims'

Furor as journalist who labels dead Palestinian terrorists ‘martyrs’ gets top Dutch award

For ‘Portrait of a Martyr,’ Sakir Khader was awarded the Silver Camera prize, which the Silver Camera Association has bestowed upon distinguished photojournalists for 75 years

Cnaan Lidor is The Times of Israel's Jewish World reporter

The website of the Silver Camera Association displays a picture that award winner Sakir Khader titled 'Portrait of a Martyr.' (Screen capture: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
The website of the Silver Camera Association displays a picture that award winner Sakir Khader titled 'Portrait of a Martyr.' (Screen capture: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

A Dutch-Palestinian photographer won the most prestigious journalism award in the Netherlands for a series of photos where some titles refer to dead jihadist terrorists as “martyrs.”

Occurring amid a debate about the ethics of journalists covering the October 7 onslaught, Sakir Khader’s prize, announced in February, has prompted criticism by watchdog groups on antisemitism and Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs. They warned that honoring Khader’s work can be construed as a dangerous endorsement of his rhetoric amid rising antisemitism in the Netherlands.

Khader, 33, was awarded the Silver Camera prize, which the Silver Camera Association has bestowed upon distinguished photojournalists for the past 75 years. He was recognized for a series titled “Life in the West Bank Before October 7,” the day that some 3,000 terrorists invaded Israel from the Gaza Strip, killing about 1,200 people and abducting another 253, among other war crimes and atrocities.

A spokesperson for the Silver Camera judges’ panel rejected the criticism, downplaying to The Times of Israel the significance of the titles the photographer gave the award-winning works.

On his official website, Khader titled one of the photos of the winning series “Portrait of a Martyr.” It shows the body of Mahmoud Khaled Ar’arawi, who died in a firefight with Israeli soldiers in Jenin in September.  Ar’arawi was wearing a headband emblazoned with the logo of the Islamic Jihad, a Palestinian terrorist group that the European Union last week slapped with new sanctions along with Hamas for their operatives’ systemic rape of women during the October 7 onslaught in Israel, among other atrocities.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) and PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh (C-L) arrive to lay a wreath of flowers by the graves of Palestinian terrorists killed in recent Israeli military counterterror raids on the Jenin refugee camp, July 12, 2023. (Zain Jaafar/AFP)

Martyr is a translation of shaheed, the Arabic-language term that many Muslims apply to people who have died fighting in a Jihad, a holy war, as well as to other war fatalities. A terrorist who died while carrying out an attack on Jews is generally referred to as a shaeed, or shohada in the plural form, in Palestinian society and among many other Muslims.

Khader on his website and on social media makes frequent use of the term “martyr” to describe dead Palestinian terrorists, including from Hamas. One of the people he photographed and described as a martyr in 2021 was Diaa Al-Sabareen, an Islamic Jihad terrorist the group describes as an “explosives expert.”

An ’embrace’ of Hamas

“The honoring of Khader is just one example of how many cultural institutions in Europe have embraced or surrendered to the Hamas narrative,” said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center advocacy group. “Shame on the committee that made such a decision,” Cooper said.

Dutch Chief Rabbi Binyomin Jacobs. (RD/A.Dommerholt/JTA)

Jacobs, the Dutch chief rabbi, called Khader’s terminology “dangerous” because it risks “inciting” people, he said.

“There is a symbolism here. This person’s pictures were selected for recognition for journalistic excellence. He says terrorists are martyrs, so the next question is: Who killed them? The answer: The Jews. The Israelis. That’s when it becomes dangerous,” Jacobs said.

Sacha Roytman Dratwa, the CEO of the Combat Antisemitism Movement, in a statement, wrote: “Giving an award to someone who honors an Islamic Jihad terrorist and murderer as a ‘martyr’ is a sick testament to the glorification of murder that has seeped into parts of the media and mainstream discourse.” He added: “The word shaheed is an honorific term for murderers. Giving an award to someone like this is extolling evil and spitting in the face of his terrorist organization’s victims.”

The Netherlands saw a 245 percent increase in antisemitic incidents in 2023 over the previous years, reaching a record tally of 379 cases, most of them after October 7.

Khader did not reply to requests for comment by The Times of Israel.

A picture taken by Hassan Eslaiah shows Palestinians celebrating by a destroyed Israeli tank at the Gaza Strip fence east of Khan Younis, October 7, 2023. (AP)

Claudia Bergman, a spokesperson for the Silver Camera Association that’s responsible for the award, told The Times of Israel that the organization stands behind its decision to honor Khader.

“We did not explore whether Khader indeed used words like the ones you claim he did,” Bergman wrote. She added that Silver Camera did not apply the term “martyr” to the titles of Khader’s work on its website and exposition. She declined to say how Silver Camera titles the pictures by Khader.

Silver Camera Association statement

After the initial publication of this article, the Silver Camera Association wrote The Times of Israel with a statement:

“For 75 years, the Zilveren Camera Foundation has been striving to elevate the quality of photojournalism in the Netherlands. To accomplish this, the Foundation assembles a broad and independent jury to assess submitted works.

“The Zilveren Camera Foundation advocates for photojournalism. Under often challenging circumstances, uncomfortable issues are captured. With the selection of Sakir Khader, the Zilveren Camera recognizes a prize winner who has succeeded impressively in this regard. The criticism mentioned of Zilveren Camera winner Khader is unknown to us. However, we can understand that his images may be uncomfortable for some people. Yet, discomfort is inherent in photojournalism’s role.

“As a foundation, we do not take sides. We would appreciate it if ‘The Times of Israel’ would make space for the award-winning photos. The painful and protracted conflict between Israelis and Palestinians results in many innocent victims on both sides. Shedding light on the suffering experienced by both sides is, journalistically speaking, an important task. Sakir Khader’s work contributes to this endeavor.”

This article was updated on April 23, 2024.

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