Sony World Photography Awards used as platform for anti-Israel propaganda

At Somerset House in London there is an exhibition of photos from around the world, the Sony World Photography Awards.  Winner of 3rd Prize in the Documentary category is Mustafa Hassona with photos of the weekly ‘return’ marches that happen each Friday in Gaza. The problem is the captions to the photos. One would have thought that there is a responsibility on the organisers of the competition and the exhibition to ensure that the captions are accurate. In the case of these photos they have demonstrably failed. You only have to look at any number of recent cases of antisemitism to see why it matters.

The first problem is Hassona’s affiliation, shown as “State of Palestine”. There’s no such country.

The second problem is the title of the series of captions, ‘Palestinian Right of Return Protests’. There is no ‘Right of Return’ and as Einat Wilf states, as long as the Palestinians don’t relinquish the “right of return,” ending the ethos of Palestinians being refugees, peace will remain elusive. “Because no other issue reflects more deeply the continued Palestinian, and more broadly Arab, view that Israel is temporary, and that the Jewish presence is not legitimate.”

The third problem is the misleading overall description of the photos: ‘Since May 30 2018, Palestinian protesters have protested weekly on the border with Israel in order to demand their right to return. The protests are still continuing along the Gaza Strip area bordering Israel, where around 233 Palestinian protesters have been killed and 21,000 injured by Israeli snipers.’

They are NOT merely ‘protesters’. Many are members of terrorist organisations like Hamas. They throw Molotov cocktails at the IDF. They want to destroy the barrier fence in order to enter into Israel and murder Israelis.  For example on April 4 IDF soldiers shot at three Palestinians who crossed the security fence in the southern Gaza Strip under the cover of darkness. The three were carrying knives. And the bombardment of Israel from Gaza has been incessant.

sony april 2019

Source: Meir Amit Center

The fourth problem is the captioning of each photo. Here is the first:

Flames appear after an explosion on the northern border of the Gaza Strip with Israel. Palestinians throw stones in response to Israeli forces’ intervention as they gather to support the ‘maritime demonstration’ to break the Gaza blockade by sea with more than 20 vessels of various sizes in Gaza City. Gaza on October 8, 2018.

What this caption misses is the fact that the maritime blockade is perfectly legal. It has a clear security purpose- The Hamas terrorist organisation is dangerous and acts to harm the State of Israel and its residents. Hamas and other Palestinian terrorist organisations in Gaza are constantly arming for this purpose and use the sea to transport weapons with which they plan to harm Israel through terrorist attacks. An example was the Victoria arms vessel caught by the Israeli navy carrying many weapons sent to the Gaza Strip.

Here is the second caption: Funeral of a Palestinian in Gaza. Palestinian reporter Mariam Abu Dakka Abu Farhana(C) reacts after learning that her brother, Mohammed Abu Farhana (31), a member of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, was killed in the Israeli artillery attack in Khan Yunis while she was covering the news of that attack in Gaza on July 21, 2018.

What this caption fails to tell the viewer is that the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades is Hamas, the terrorist group that controls Gaza. Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel and the Jewish nation and the creation of an Islamic state between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. And that the IDF operation that killed Farhana was a reprisal for the death of an IDF soldier.

Here is the third caption: “Great March of Return” demonstrations in Gaza City, Gaza. Palestinian demonstrators throw rocks using slingshots after the intervention of Israeli forces during the “Great March of Return” demonstration near the Israel-Gaza border, in Khan Yunis, Gaza on October 5, 2018.

Again the problem is what the caption fails to tell the viewer. Slingshots versus the IDF sounds like David and Goliath doesn’t it? But it’s highly misleading. These are NOT peaceful protests. And the caption fails to mention the incendiary balloons that were launched into Israel from Gaza. On October 7, 2018, firefighters put out five fires in the western Negev. Some of the balloons had explosive devices attached to them.

Here is the fourth caption: The “Great March of Return” in Gaza. Demonstrators shout slogans and hold Palestinian flags during the demonstrations at the Gaza and Israeli border in the eastern part of Khan Yunis, Gaza. Dubbed the “Great March of Return, the first of the Friday rallies in Gaza coincided with Land Day which commemorates the Palestinian fatalities of the protests held on 30th March 1976. They are also intended to pressure Israel to lift its decade-long blockade of the coastal enclave.

The issue here is that there is no ‘decade-long blockade’. See the COGAT website. Every day goods trucks go into Gaza from Israel. The only goods not allowed in are those which could be used for making armaments.

The final caption is on the best-known of Hassana’s photos: A shirtless young protester in Gaza gripping a Palestinian flag with one hand and swinging a slingshot over his head with the other, on the northern border between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the weekly protests organized by Palestinian protesters to protest against the Israeli blockade of Gaza, which has been imposed by Israel for the past 12 years.

The falsehoods in this caption have been addressed above. The weekly protests are far from the David and Goliath image that this caption portrays. They are orchestrated by Hamas. And the allegation of a ‘blockade’ of Gaza is simply not true.

The organisers of (and judges for) the Sony World Photography Awards have lamentably failed to prevent their event being used for anti-Israel propaganda. How was this allowed to happen?


This is the totally unsatisfactory response to complaints (‘neutral !!!!’):

The Sony World Photography Awards is a platform for photography and the jury judge the photographs, not the narrative.

The descriptions used in the book and the exhibition are neutral descriptions of each image itself, not the event depicted, and do not offer viewpoint of the World Photography Organisation, Sony or the Sony World Photography Awards.
With best wishes,
Jill Cotton (Communications Director, World Photography Awards)