Palestinian People and Culture Under Threat from Israel’s Retaliatory Attacks
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
(NEW YORK – Published at 3:48 pm ET)— PEN America mourns the devastating loss of civilian lives in Gaza and condemns threats to free expression and the free flow of vital information to the public, including the international community, arising out of the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas. As part of a comprehensive response to this conflict, international efforts should focus on ensuring the availability of accurate information essential to resolving the conflict and enabling individuals to withstand hardship and protect themselves.
Israel’s airstrikes have killed at least 2,750 people in Gaza as part of an ongoing campaign that began last week after Hamas killed at least 1,400 Israelis in a planned attack. The subsequent Israel government evacuation call has displaced up to one million civilians in Gaza.
“There can be no freedom to write, think critically, dream of, or plan for a better world amid bomb blasts, sieges, terror attacks and kidnappings. Violations of the laws of war in Gaza will result in collective punishment and grave consequences for free expression and Palestinian culture,” said Justin Shilad, research and advocacy lead for the Middle East and North Africa at PEN America.
“The recent violence against Palestinians and Israelis is horrific, and it has deep roots in decades of brutality and political stasis. Israel’s authorities must immediately end violations of human rights and free expression in Gaza, and Hamas its attacks on Israeli civilians and other abuses, as a first step toward a durable solution for the region rooted in justice, human rights and a society free from occupation,” he added.
Threats to free expression, including the killing of journalists, destruction of media infrastructure, schools and places of worship, have been accompanied by hateful rhetoric by high-ranking officials. Even in situations of crisis and anguish, officials should use language conscientiously and avoid statements that dehumanize or stoke tension and hostility on the basis of race, religion or nationality. PEN America condemns statements and actions that assume or imply that all civilians are culpable for the deeds of their leaders.
As an organization founded on the idea that writers have a role to play in preventing wars and sustaining peace, PEN America is deeply concerned about the killings of journalists. To date, 11 Palestinian journalists, including Saeed al-Taweel, Mohammed Sobh, Hisham Alnwajha, Assaad Shamlakh, Ibrahim Mohammad Lafi, Mohammad Jarghoun, Mohammad Al-Salhi, Mohamed Fayez Abu Matar, Ahmed Shehab, Husam Mubarak, and Salam Mema have been killed in Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza; a Reuters journalist, Issam Abdallah, was killed by a missile launched from Israel amid cross-border strikes on the Lebanese border. Three Israeli journalists, Yaniv Zohar, Shai Regev and Ayelet Arnin, were killed by Hamas and two Israeli journalists, Roee Idan and Oded Lifshitz, disappeared during the attacks and suspected of having been taken hostages. Journalists are risking their lives to report what is happening in the region. Death and capture of journalists, regardless of whether they have been deliberately targeted, undercut the role of writers as truth tellers and compound the challenges of access to information in and from Gaza.
Additionally, the Israeli military’s bombardment has also destroyed journalists’ homes, media offices, and targeted critical communications equipment, while the ongoing siege of Gaza has cut off electricity and internet access, effectively creating a media blackout and denying people in Gaza access to essential information and communication.
Israel’s military and Hamas are obliged to take all feasible steps to reduce the risk of injury and death to civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure. PEN America expresses profound concern over Israel’s attacks that have resulted in damage to schools and other educational institutions in Gaza. Since the start of the bombing, at least 400,000 civilians are sheltering in UN-run schools and institutions in Gaza, making them not only essential educational institutions but lifesaving shelters for civilians under bombardment. Hamas’ use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes threatens civilians.
The destruction of schools and mosques or their use for military purposes imperils civilian lives and risks undermining the cultural rights of Palestinians. At least 30 students and 11 UNRWA teachers and staff have been killed, and at least 88 educational facilities have been hit in bombing from Israel. Additionally, PEN America condemns the destruction of religious sites in Gaza and the consequences of such destruction for Palestinian cultural heritage. At least seven mosques have reportedly been destroyed in Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza, including in refugee camps and other densely populated areas in the enclave.
As an organization of writers devoted to defending free expression and using literature and culture as tools to overcome schisms, PEN America hopes that the voices of reason, hope and truth from all sides of the current conflict will be heard and prevail. As former PEN America President Salman Rushdie has said, “a poem cannot stop a bullet. A novel cannot defuse a bomb. But we are not helpless. We can sing the truth and name the liars.” We hope that all writers, thinkers and artists living amid this war are free and safe to do just that.
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. To learn more visit PEN.org
Contact: Suzanne Trimel, [email protected], 201-247-5057