Beth Stebner
March 29, 2015 6:35 am

By any stretch of the imagination, photojournalist Heidi Levine is a beacon of courage. For more than three decades, she’s been capturing startling images of conflict in the Middle East. Levine’s ability to humanize the politics of war has raised international awareness about the pressing need for peace.

And this week, her efforts were recognized by the International Women’s Media Foundation — the American-born, Israel-based freelancer just received the organization’s inaugural Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award, created in memory of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer who was killed in the line of duty in Afghanistan in 2014.

“I am honored beyond what any words can describe, but I am heartbroken, too, because this award has been created because a friend of mine and a dear colleague was killed,” she told the New York Times in a moving interview. “I am honored, but I am broken at the same time.”

Levine’s photographs are not for the faint of heart – they depict the destruction of entire towns, graphic violence and intimate portraits of those who’ve suffered tremendous loss in the Gaza Strip, Libya, Syria, and Egypt.

One particularly moving image is a close-up of a Palestinian teenager who was badly injured in an Israeli airstrike. The attack killed her cousins and her sister, and left the girl with shrapnel wounds all over her face and body. Another (below) features a woman standing in her home, which was attacked by a rocket in Shujayea.

The field of combat photojournalism is still largely dominated by men, and as a woman—a mother of three—she’s faced her share of discrimination.

In a 2013 interview with The Women’s Eye, she said some male colleagues would give her a hard time when they were out in the field.

“I had to fight my way in and then fight my way to be accepted into a profession that was, and still is to some degree, very much a boy’s club,” she told the site, adding that one photojournalist asked what she was doing in Libya covering the 2011 U.S. embassy bombing because she had children at home.

Even Levine’s children, who are now in their late teens and early 20s, struggled with their mother’s career and why she wasn’t a “normal” working mom.

“They are scared to lose their mother,” Levine told The Women’s Eye in 2013. “In many ways, they felt that I was taken away from them by the conflicts I covered.” They even asked why she couldn’t just be a schoolteacher.

That changed, however, when Levine’s daughter wrote an essay for a college English class entitled, “My Mom, the War Photographer.”

“I really cried when she told me she was writing about me,” Levine told the site. “It made me understand she not only understood what I do but was actually proud of it and wanted to share it.”

Even thought Levine excels at her job, she admits it was a slightly accidental career path. In her online bio, she reveals that she left for Israel in 1983 for what she thought was a “one-year experience.” That, of course, turned into a lifetime passion, though she also considered going into medicine,

Levine will receive her award in June at a ceremony in Berlin, the Associated Press reports. It comes with a $20,000 prize, provided by the Howard G. Buffett Foundation.

In the meantime, make sure to check out some of Levine’s powerful photographs, and think of women like her and the late Niedringhaus, photojournalists who are putting their lives at risk on a daily basis to show the world how political conflict directly impacts real people. With a single image, they have the power and courage to raise international awareness, and hopefully spark positive change.

(Images via IWMF, Twitter)