“The Pietà of Gaza” wins the World Press Photo 2024: a Palestinian woman holding the body of her dead niece in her arms


By John

They have already renamed it “The Pieta of Gaza”. It is the photo of a Palestinian woman, crouching on the ground, while she holds the body of her dead granddaughter, wrapped in a white shroud, winner of the prestigious photography of the year award by World Press Photo. Work by the Palestinian Reuters photojournalist Mohammed Salem, although it does not show the faces of the two subjects, it is very reminiscent of Michelangelo's masterpiece for its plastic drama.

A two-dimensional image which, however, according to many observers, could become a statue, a monument capable of representing this tragic war. Taken on 17 October 2023 at the Nasser hospital in Gaza, just ten days after the start of the conflict, the photo portrays Inas Abu Maamar, a 36-year-old woman, wearing a blue dress, which explicitly recalls the color associated with that of Madonna, while embracing the lifeless body of Saly, her five-year-old niece, covered by a white sheet, a symbol of innocence and purity, killed together with her mother and a sister by an Israeli missile that fell on their home in Khan Yunis.

Salem met the woman, crouched on the floor, hugging the little girl, in the hospital morgue, at a time when many residents had gone there to look for their missing relatives, victims of the bombs. The photographer describes the shot, taken shortly after his wife gave birth, as a moment “full of strength and sadness at the same time, which summarizes the broader feeling of what happened in the Gaza Strip.”

The jury wanted to underline the care and respect with which the reporter took the image, which “offers a metaphorical and literal look at an unimaginable loss and pain at the same time”.