IWMF Strips Palestinian War Journalist Maha Hussaini of “Courage in Journalism Award”
June 27 2024
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After receiving the Courage in Journalism Award 2024 presented by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF), Maha Hussaini became the victim of a digital smear campaign by Zionists. The Washington-based media organization released a statement on June 20 revealing their decision to revoke her award: “...[W]e recently learned of comments [Maha] made on digital and social platforms that starkly contradict the values of our organization. As a result, we made the difficult decision to rescind her Courage in Journalism Award.” 

Hussaini told Democracy Now that the award was rescinded for the very reason she received it — reporting on the Israeli Occupation’s crimes: 

“This is why we, as Palestinians, see global media outlets, Western media outlets…  as complicit in the silencing of Palestinian journalists — because they always succumb to these pressures by the Israeli Occupation or [by] the perpetrators in general.” 

Hussaini noted that she discovered via social media that the award had been revoked. Hussaini was not otherwise informed. 

This is not the first time Hussaini has been the victim of Zionist smear campaigns; in 2020, she won the Martin Adler Prize from the Rory Peck Trust and was subjected to a similar campaign, but according to Hussaini, the Rory Peck Trust, unlike IWMF, “did not succumb to the pressures.” 

The Rory Peck Trust released a statement on X on June 24th authored by Jon Williams, the organization’s Executive Director: 

“Maha Hussaini was nominated for - and won - the Martin Adler Award in 2020 for specific reporting assignments the previous year. Palestinian journalists like Maha are subjected to scrutiny and criticism of their posts on social media, rarely applied to journalists elsewhere. Such campaigns actively contribute to an environment in which all journalists are more likely to be verbally and physically targeted for their work. The Rory Peck Trust is concerned for Maha’s safety and defends her right and the right of all journalists to freedom of expression.”

Hussaini subsequently thanked the Rory Peck Trust on X, referencing their integrity during the last smear campaign. 

Hussaini insisted that this issue is larger than her alone: “It’s not only me. It's not about me. It’s not about Maha Hussaini — it’s about every Palestinian journalist working in the Palestinian Territories and in Palestine in general.” 

In her interview with Democracy Now, Hussaini noted that intimidation campaigns and their impact are why “Palestinian journalists are intimidated, and they don't continue in the work.” Hussaini also expressed that the killing of 140 Palestinian journalists by the Israeli Occupation Forces is not the only threat journalists face — Palestinian reporters are regularly the targets of “systematic smear campaigns and systematic attacks.” Hussaini also referenced a colleague who was threatened with murder by the IOF  if he did not stop recording the atrocities committed by the Occupation.

The Rory Peck Trust is not the only organization that has issued a statement in solidarity; the Palestinian Journalist Protection Initiative has rallied behind Hussaini in support: 

“The Journalists Protection Initiative stands in complete solidarity with journalist Al-Husseini, after the aforementioned award was taken away from her due to her bias toward the truth, the suffering of the victims in the Gaza Strip, and her exceptional contribution to exposing Israeli crimes. 

The Journalists Protection Initiative affirms that journalist Al-Husseini's outstanding work in publishing dozens of stories since the Israeli war on Gaza began in October, including a report that exposed the field executions of Palestinians by Israeli forces, cannot be diminished by the IWMF's announcement that it is withdrawing the Courage Award from journalist Al-Husseini for caving in to Israeli incitement.”

The group also called on the Union of Arab Journalists and other international organizations to take action against attempts to exclude or restrict the work of Palestinian journalists.” 

Hussaini also released a response to IWMF’s decision: 

“I wouldn't have won The International Women's Media Foundation (@IWMF)'s Courage in Journalism Award 2024 this June if I hadn’t been on the ground reporting events and exposing Israeli flagrant violations under perilous conditions, all while being systematically attacked by supporters of the perpetrators,” she wrote. 

“Winning a prize for ‘courage’ means being subjected to attacks and choosing to continue your work regardless. However, I regret to say that the very organization that recognized these perilous conditions and awarded me the prize succumbed to pressure and chose to act contrary to courage; they rescinded the award in a decision that would put my life at risk.”

Hussaini noted that Palestinian journalists are targeted by smear campaigns on a yearly basis, especially when they are nominated for awards. 

“I have no regrets about any posts or reasons that led to the rescinding of this award, and I will not stop expressing my views. Before being a journalist, I am a Palestinian living under military occupation, a strangling blockade, and genocide in Gaza,” she continued.

Lila Hassan, an investigative journalist who previously obtained a grant from the IWMF, criticized the organization’s decision on X, sharing that it has failed in its mission to uplift women.

“Instead, the message is: get in line with Western acceptability, regardless of circumstance, or be ostracized in the global media community.”

On June 21, the IWMF amended its statement to recognize Hussaini’s “undeniable courage,” adding that the decision was “difficult” to make. While the essence of the statement and rescission of the award remained the same, this new vocabulary forced the organization to alter its tone away from the previously utilized dry, sanitized language as if to recognize that Hussaini is a human being. This alteration, of course, is due to the backlash the organization has received from its community, as well as from advocates for Hussaini. 

(Top) Screenshot of the statement by the IWMF published on June 20. (Bottom) Screenshot of the updated statement by the IWMF, June 21.

The organization announced the awardees in early June, including in a newsletter circulated on June 10, as seen by Palestine Square. The newsletter dedicated a section to Maha.

Hussaini, a multimedia journalist, faces daily threats to her life while covering the Israel-Hamas war from her homeland of Gaza. Despite displacement, and enduring a physically debilitating aerial assault, Hussaini continues to report, most often for Middle East Eye.”

However, in an email obtained by Palestine Square on June 20, Maha’s name was absent from an attached letter signed by the IWMF Board co-chairs requesting sponsorship for the awards ceremony. The letter reads, “As we know, the threats directed toward women in the profession are especially intense. These fearless journalists need our support now more than ever.” 

Palestinian journalist Laura Albast shared on X a response emphasizing the irony of these words and referencing that the group gave a similar award to slain journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, stating: “It seems [IWMF prefers] to recognize the work of dead Palestinian journalists, not those living with a voice. I am deeply disappointed in [their] cowardice.”

About The Author: 

Anna Rajagopal is a South Asian Jewish organizer, journalist, and writer based in Houston, Texas. Anna's work focuses on Palestinian movement building and resistance in exile. 

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