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‘Israel has killed journalists, poets, novelists and writers of all kinds’

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ANOTHER of Israel’s war crimes has been its deliberate targeting and killing of journalists and other writers since its siege and genocide of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

This genocide has been obviously to avenge the Islamic Resistance Movement’s (Hamas) attack on October 7 that killed 1,300 Israelis. Israel’s murderous rampage, which its leaders claim is necessary to totally exterminate Hamas, has killed 31,000 Palestinians, 12,000 of whom were children and even infants in hospitals, through daily bombings and since January the Israeli troops’ ground assault.

The killing of reporters and other writers by Israel has been unprecedented in recent conflicts, with the Committee to Protect Journalists reporting that 99 writers were killed in Gaza in three months, more than in any conflict elsewhere in a year’s time. It is not only civilians that Israel has been slaughtering, but those in my profession. It is a dangerous precedent to prevent the facts and truth from being revealed to the world. In the case of one Palestinian journalist, his entire family of five were killed in his apartment by a bomb — obviously guided there by Israeli intelligence.

Mourning some of the 99 Palestinian journalists killed in 2023 and since early 2024. Collage/Committee to Protect Journalists

It is a shame that our press organizations — the National Press Club, the leftist National Union of Journalists of the Philippines — that have pretended to be champions of press freedom — the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines, and even PEN Philippines have not condemned this attack on our profession. Aren’t they aware that, unlike most professions, journalism is a kind of brotherhood?

I wonder why our “literary types” of columnists, usually hyper-emotional about these kinds of injustice, have been silent on the Gaza genocide? Our resident man of letters, a columnist in this paper, wrote in his November 7 piece that Hamas is “a curse on the Palestinian people,” devoting not a single word to the fact that by that time, because of daily missile and bomb attacks on densely populated residential areas, the Israeli Defense Forces had killed 10,000 Palestinian civilians, including 4,000 children.

Unlike this columnist, though, most writers in the world have been aghast over the Gaza genocide. The latest condemnation of Israel by writers is a March 13 open letter by acclaimed novelists to America’s most prestigious literary association PEN America, to announce their boycotting of the association’s famous World Voices Festival. A few days earlier, a group of 600 writers and poets — now numbering 1,300 — also signed an open letter condemning PEN’s silence on Gaza.

Excerpts from writers’ open letter to PEN America —

“An unrelenting genocidal campaign is currently being waged against Palestinians in Gaza, a horror that has been filmed daily and streamed live around the world. More than 100,000 people have been injured, and more than 30,000 killed, including over 12,000 children. More than 70 percent of the homes in Gaza have been damaged or destroyed, leaving more than a million people homeless in a land where nowhere is safe from Israel’s drones, missiles, bombs and bullets, in part paid for and supplied by the United States government.

In January, the International Court of Justice found it plausible that Israel’s siege on Gaza could amount to genocide and ordered ‘immediate and effective measures’ to protect Palestinians in the occupied territories by ensuring sufficient humanitarian assistance and enabling basic services. Thousands more Palestinian adults and children have been killed since the ICJ ruling; not only has Israel refused to facilitate adequate aid, it has actually hindered it.

Hundreds of thousands of people are at risk of famine, and a growing number of children and elderly people are dying of malnutrition and dehydration even after they survive the bombing of their homes. Despite all this, PEN America has declined to join other leading human rights organizations and United Nations officials in the demands for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire.

Cultural sphere

This failure is particularly striking in light of the extraordinary toll this catastrophe has taken on the cultural sphere. Israel has killed, and at times deliberately targeted and assassinated journalists, poets, novelists and writers of all kinds.

It has destroyed almost all forms of cultural infrastructure that support the practice of literature, art, intellectual exchange and free speech through the bombing and demolition of universities, cultural centers, museums, libraries and printing presses. By disrupting access to digital communication, Israel has also been blocking Palestinians from sharing what they have witnessed and experienced and telling the truth about what is happening to them. Everyone who uses the power of the pen and free speech to appeal to the conscience of the world is at risk.

In less than five months, Israel has killed nearly 100 journalists and media workers, more than in the two-decade war in Afghanistan and more than in the deadliest year of the Iraq war. Israel has also killed nearly 100 academics and writers. If organizations like PEN America cling to the illusion of political neutrality in the face of a clear effort to destroy Palestinian lives and culture, one can only wonder whether there will be any writers left in Gaza to tell the story of their apocalypse, or to trust words and speech, when the killing finally ends. Or any record left of the history they have lived.

Scholars are increasingly reaching for novel words to describe the scope of Israel’s cultural genocide. Words like ‘scholasticide’ are invoked to describe the elimination of systems of education, and ‘epistemicide’ to describe the erasure of systems of knowledge. In contrast, PEN America took four and half months to utter the word ‘ceasefire,’ then only with a vague ‘hope’ for one that is ‘mutually agreed,’ rather than a clear call. We expect more from an organization that exists for the express purpose of protecting freedom of speech and thought and advancing a vision of our common humanity.

Condemning

Equally concerning is PEN America’s history of condemning authors who choose to honor the Palestinian call for a cultural and academic boycott of Israeli institutions complicit in their oppression, accusing them of impeding ‘the free flow of ideas.’ It seems to us that this violates several principles at the heart of PEN’s mission. To begin with, the idea that BDS, which does not boycott individual writers or scholars, can impede the ‘free flow of ideas’ in Israel-Palestine assumes that such a thing exists there. In fact, it is a cruel fantasy so long as Palestinians live under a rule reliant on racial segregation and the implementation of ethnic hierarchies, siege and collective punishment, the very conditions BDS seeks to end.

(Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, or BDS, is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality which, it says, upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.)

PEN America has not launched any substantial coordinated support or issued any reports highlighting the scale and scope of the attacks on writers in Gaza, or on Palestinian speech and culture more broadly. PEN America has done very little to mobilize or inspire its many members — quite unlike recent PEN America campaigns opposing the war in Ukraine and its impact on culture, or PEN International’s ‘Day of the Dead’ honoring journalists killed in Latin America.

We know that some will claim that by choosing to not take part in PEN World Voices Festival, we obstruct free speech, or that we think that PEN should only platform writers with whom we agree. Nothing could be further from the truth. We ask only that PEN America abide by its own principles and charter with consistency and live up to its core mandate to clearly and courageously defend the writers most at risk from repression and threat of being murdered.”


Facebook: Rigoberto Tiglao

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Dorina S. Rojas

    Are US citizens proud of their country being the genocide mastermind of the world? I hope and pray we do not fall for this. Let the leaders go to war and kill themselves. Leave the Filipinos alone.

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