(NEW YORK) – Palestinian painter Fathi Ghaben died in Gaza on February 25, after Israeli authorities did not respond to his request for permission to travel outside Gaza for medical treatment, news outlets have reported. Artists at Risk Connection (ARC) condemns the reported lack of response to an urgent medical request to receive what could have been life-saving medical care.

Ghaben, 77, suffered from severe chest and lung issues and was being treated at Shuhada al-Aqsa Hospital, the only functioning hospital in central Gaza. The acute shortage of medical supplies and oxygen led Ghaben to seek transfer to a hospital in Egypt. Despite completing the required paperwork and waiting for two weeks, media reports indicate that Ghaben did not receive permission from Israeli authorities to leave Gaza. 

“We mourn the loss of Fathi Ghaben, a talented artist who had a monumental impact across the region. Artists and cultural professionals in Gaza, in a symphony of creativity and defiance against repression of all kinds, bravely wield their craft not just as a means of expression but as vehicles for awareness and engines of societal change,” said Julie Trébault, director of Artists at Risk Connection. 

A self-taught artist, Ghaben specialized in scenes of everyday life in Gaza under occupation and the agony of forced displacement. As a result, he was repeatedly detained and arrested, banned from traveling in 1984, and often had his works confiscated. In 1984, Ghaben was sentenced to six months in prison for paintings that included the colors of the Palestinian flag, banned by Israeli authorities at that time. He was displaced numerous times following the start of the war on October 7 and likely became ill as a result of inhaling smoke and gas from the bombing, according to his wife. 

Ghaben was honored for his creativity in 2015 by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas with the Order of Culture, Science, and Arts on the Creativity Level. Earlier in his career, he worked as an advisor to Palestine’s Ministry of Culture, which has released a statement on Facebook stating that Ghaben’s death was a “loss for Palestinian art.” 


About the Artists at Risk Connection

Artists at Risk Connection (ARC), a program of PEN America, is dedicated to assisting imperiled artists and fortifying the field of organizations that support them. If you or someone you know is an artist at risk, contact ARC

About PEN America

PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible. Learn more at pen.org.

For further information or to set up interviews, contact Dietlind Lerner (she/her/hers)

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