By Jamshed Baruah
NEW YORK | 19 October 2023 (IDN) — The US Pen Association, PEN America, mourns the devastating deaths of civilians in Gaza and condemns threats to free expression and the free flow of vital information to the public, including the international community, as a result of the escalating conflict between Israel and Hamas.
According to a statement on 18 October, international efforts should be focused on ensuring that accurate information is available to enable individuals to withstand hardship and protect themselves as part of a comprehensive response to this conflict.
As AP reported, Israel’s airstrikes have killed at least 2,750 people in Gaza as part of an ongoing campaign that began after Hamas killed at least 1,400 Israelis in a planned attack. One million civilians have been displaced due to the subsequent evacuation order issued by the Israeli government.
“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 horrendous, resulting from decades of political stagnation and brutality. As a first step toward a durable solution for the region rooted in justice, human rights, and a society free of occupation, Israel’s authorities must immediately stop violations of human rights and free expression in Gaza, as well as Hamas’ attacks on Israeli civilians and other abuses, he added.
High-ranking officials have used hateful rhetoric to threaten free expression, including killing journalists and destroying media infrastructure, schools and places of worship.
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.
Officials should avoid statements that dehumanize or stoke tension or hostility based on race, religion, or nationality, even in times of crisis and anguish. PEN America condemns statements and actions that assume or imply that all civilians are culpable for the deeds of their leaders.
As an organization built upon the principle that writers have a crucial role in preventing conflicts and promoting peace, PEN America is deeply troubled by the killings of journalists. So far, 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 lost their lives due to Israel’s airstrikes on Gaza. Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah was also killed by a missile launched from Israel during cross-border attacks on the Lebanese border.
Hamas killed three Israeli journalists, Yaniv Zohar, Shai Regev and Ayelet Arnin. Two Israeli journalists, Roee Idan and Oded Lifshitz, disappeared during the attacks and are believed to have been held hostage. The report of what is happening in the region is at risk to journalists.
The death and capture of journalists, regardless of whether they were deliberately targeted, undermines the role of writers as truth-tellers and complicates access to information from Gaza.
Media offices, mosques, UNRWA schools and teachers
Additionally, the Israeli military’s bombardment has destroyed journalists’ homes and media offices and targeted critical communication equipment. The ongoing siege has cut off electricity and internet access, effectively creating a media blackout and denying people in Gaza access to essential information and communication.
In order to reduce the risk of injury and death to civilians and damage to civilian infrastructure, the Israeli military and Hamas must take all feasible measures. As a result of Israeli attacks on Gaza schools and other educational institutions, PEN America is deeply concerned.
At least 400,000 civilians have been sheltering in UN-run schools and institutions in Gaza since the beginning of the bombing, making them vital educational institutions and lifesaving shelters for civilians. Hamas’s use of civilian infrastructure for military purposes poses a danger to civilians.
According to CNN, A school or mosque destroyed or used for military purposes threatens civilian lives and undermines Palestinian cultural rights. In Israeli bombings, 30 students and 11 UNRWA teachers and staff have been killed, and at least 88 educational facilities have been destroyed.
Furthermore, PEN America condemns the destruction of religious sites in Gaza and the consequences of such destruction for Palestinian cultural heritage. In Israel’s airstrikes in Gaza, at least seven mosques have been destroyed, including in refugee camps and other densely populated areas.
PEN America, an organization of writers dedicated to the defence of free expression and the use of literature and culture to overcome schisms, hopes to hear and prevail on all sides of the current conflict.
As former PEN America President Salman Rushdie has said: “A poem cannot stop a bullet. A novel can’t defuse a bomb. But we are not helpless. We can sing the truth and name the liars.” [IDN-InDepthNews]
Photo source: Iran Press | America
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate.
Photo source: Iran Press | America
IDN is the flagship agency of the Non-profit International Press Syndicate