Reporting the Gazan Ghost

Lean, unshaven and wearing a black helmet emblazoned on the front with the letters TV, the man who calls himself SAMIALUTIN on Facebook grins for the photographer. With a camera dangling from each shoulder and the word PRESS printed across the front of his blue flak jacket, he poses with Palestinian refugee children, his arms draped around their shoulders.

SAMIALUTIN says he’s a photojournalist from Gaza City trying to survive in a Rafa refugee camp under siege.

More than 122 journalists have died since Oct. 7 covering Israel’s Gazan slaughter. Israel has banned foreign reporters and commentators from covering what many of the world’s most experienced human rights experts call genocide.

SAMIALUTIN says he’s alive, if not well, and living amid death and destruction.

His Facebook biography is impressive.

“Works at ABC Diploma in Photography, Works at Owner and Photographer. Field Epidemiology Training Program Assistant agency for preventive health at Epidemiology & Public Health, Works at Photographer, photographer journalist at journalist, Studied at ‎كلية الايمان للدورات الاستكماليه, Studied at ‎شباب وصبايا كلية مجتمع الاقصي‎, Went to ‎جامعة الأزهر – غزة Al Azhar University Gaza, Went to ‎The Islamic University of Gaza الجامعة الإسلامية بغزة‎, Went to Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia, Went to English for Palestinian High School Students.”

But I don’t know if SAMIALUTIN is telling the truth.

I don’t know if SAMIALUTIN is his name. I don’t know if he’s a photojournalist. I don’t know if he’s in Gaza. Maybe the man is a woman scammer responding to my Facebook Messenger messages I sent as the horrific American-supported holocaust continues. I don’t even know if SAMIALUTAN is human. I’m inclined to believe the person with whom I recently communicated is a person and not a bot or AI invention generated by an algorithm.

I do know I’m suspicious.

If his story is true, I’d like to help. Since all good journalism is the search for truth, I need to know more about SAMIALUTIN aka “samialutan97.” If he’s legitimate, I want to tell his story, the saga of a brave journalist and a vulnerable people bombarded, left to starve, rot and die amid countless tons of ruin, disease and despair.

If he’s a fraud, I want to help shut him down.

SAMIALUTAN’s photo recently showed up on my personal Facebook cavalcade of “People You Might Know.” I sent a friend request which he quickly accepted. Angered by what little pressure against Israeli American-financed slaughter I can provide from Scranton, Pennsylvania, USA, I’m duty-bound to ramp up my fight against Zionist occupation and killing of men, women and children in Gaza.

As always, I stand with aggressive free speech.

I informed SAMIALUTAN in my first message that I’m an American journalist. I told him “I’m on your side.” That’s the side of human rights and Palestinian freedom, the side of truth, humanity and justice. I have always supported the right of self-defense by oppressed people seeking liberation.

SAMIALUTAN’s first response to me was, “Can you help me with little to help my family get something to eat, it’s been day 6 without food and water.” He added a little monk-like prayer emoji to his message.

He also sent PayPal information and a number for confidential phone messages. He wanted money. SAMIALUTAN’s Facebook page is loaded with appeals for cash as well as video and still photographs I have no proof he shot. Does PayPal work in a Palestinian refugee camp always at risk of Israeli attack and destruction? Does PayPal now serve Palestinians when in the past it did not?

Other than through Facebook Messenger I declined to connect with SAMIALUTAN.  Facebook might be a safer means of communication, but I don’t trust that tech monster either. When it comes to credibility, Meta Platforms, formerly Facebook, Inc. dictator Mark Zuckerberg is as bad as the Chinese government.

“Who do you work for?’ I wrote SAMIALUTAN in another Facebook Messenger message.

“Gaza_palestine press,” he responded.

“Do you have an editor I can contact?”

“No brother”

“Who oversees your work?”

“Al jazeera Arabic”

“Name and contact info for editor?”

Now SAMIALUTAN dropped a big name.

“motaz AZAIZA”

In April Time magazine named Gazan Palestinian photographer Motaz Azaiza as one of the 100 most influential people in the world. Azaiza “evacuated” Gaza in January and relocated to Qatar.

I sent Azaiza a message asking if he knew SAMIALUTAN, but he failed to respond. Al Jazeera also failed to respond to my message about whether SAMIALUTAN works with them.

“I’m a photographer who’s working as a Gaza press,” SAMIALUTAN wrote.

“I’m in the camp of Rafah,” he wrote.

I held my questions for a day.

“Are you there?” SAMIALUTAN wrote.

I didn’t respond.

“Pardon, my english is very poor I only understand the Arabic language much better,” he wrote.

That’s when I deleted my chat with SAMIALUTAN and removed him as a Facebook friend. With more than one thousand Facebook followers, showcasing shocking photos and video, SAMIALUTAN still asks for money.

“Thx for u mohammed u standing with me all the wa.r and thx for all people her support me and give me help thx,” he wrote on Facebook two days ago.

Not knowing the truth irks me. Is my grinning former Facebook friend a real photojournalist fighting honorably to keep himself and his family alive? Does he risk dying to tell the story of his people? Or is he a menacing fraud trying to profit from the remains of the dead and dying?

I’ve reported what little I know of his story as best I can.

My frustration continues.

The Gazan carnage continues.

So, too, does the search for truth.