English PEN is disturbed by the UK Government’s refusal to call for an immediate ceasefire in the conflict between Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT).
Since 7 October 2023, at least 31 journalists have been killed. Several others are detained, injured, or missing, and many other writers are among those at grave risk.
The PEN community has repeatedly called for an ‘immediate end of all hostilities, the protection of civilians, and a just resolution to the conflict’. PEN has also urged the United Nations and its Member States ‘to take all necessary steps to broker an immediate ceasefire’.
Together with colleagues from across the globe, English PEN calls for an immediate ceasefire to protect the lives and human rights of writers, journalists, and the many other innocent people affected by the ongoing conflict in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. We urge the UK Government to do the same.
25 October: PEN International is horrified by the mounting toll of civilian casualties and the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza. The organisation calls for an immediate ceasefire, the protection of civilians, including the release of all hostages, and the end of the siege imposed on Gaza.
“Indiscriminately harming innocent civilians is unacceptable, whether it is the result of attacks by Hamas or bombardments by Israeli forces. Blocking the delivery of prompt and effective humanitarian aid to Gaza will only impact innocent civilians. Such conduct unquestionably violates international humanitarian law and must be halted immediately. A ceasefire must be enacted now. Let humanity win,” said Burhan Sonmez, PEN International President.
As of October 23rd, the Gaza Ministry of Health reported that the number of casualties has tragically risen to 5,087 Palestinians killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza. Over 62 per cent of the casualties have been women and children, and the total number of injuries has surpassed 15,273 individuals.
On October 21st, the Rafah crossing with Egypt was partially reopened for the first time since October 8th, facilitating the entry of 20 trucks loaded with essential supplies, including food, water, and medical provisions. The amount of goods that entered is just 4 per cent of Gaza’s pre-conflict daily import average, falling far short of the essential needs after days of total blockade. The UN spokesperson for the UN agency for Palestine refugees underscored that before the conflict, 500 trucks used to enter Gaza every day – those included commercial trucks and at least 100 aid trucks, some 45 of them bringing fuel.
The aid deliveries, which did not include the fuel required to operate generators for water desalination and to power hospitals, followed Israel’s full siege on October 9th, cutting access to vital supplies such as food, water and medicines, among others.
Since October 7th, at least 42 per cent of all housing units in Gaza have been destroyed, rendered uninhabitable, or damaged, according to the Gaza Ministry of Housing. Over 1,000 individuals have been declared missing and are “presumed to be trapped or deceased beneath the rubble,” in Gaza, according to the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination office, OCHA. Out of the 2.2 million Palestinians residing in Gaza, 1.4 million are now internally displaced people.
Israel must immediately stop the bombing of Gaza, and lift its 16-year-long air, land and sea blockade, allowing immediate access to humanitarian aid.
Hamas must immediately release all Israeli civilian hostages promptly, without conditions or harm, and immediately stop launching indiscriminate rockets into Israel.
The United Nations and its Member States must take all necessary steps to broker an immediate ceasefire, and ensure a just resolution to the conflict. This should involve an immediate cessation of the 56 years of Israeli occupation of all Palestinian Territories, in compliance with international law, and the dismantling of the decades-long apartheid system imposed on Palestinians.
On October 7, Hamas crossed the border into Israel and carried out heinous mass killings of civilians, took hostages, and launched indiscriminate rocket attacks into Israel. The consequences were devastating, with over 1,400 casualties, including a majority of civilians, including women, children and elderly people, 2100 wounded, and over 200 Israeli and foreign nationals being held in captivity in Gaza. As of October 24nd, 278 people are being treated in Israeli hospitals.
In response, Israel initiated a campaign of extensive bombardments in residential areas and imposed a total siege on Gaza.
The use of explosive weapons with broad impacts in the densely populated Gaza, coupled with the destruction of vital infrastructure, inevitably inflicts severe harm to the Palestinians of Gaza. Similarly, the firing of rockets from Gaza into Israel, an the taking of hostages, poses a clear threat to civilians and civilian objects.
According to international humanitarian law, most notably the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and its Additional Protocols of 1977, all parties in a conflict have a clear obligation to protect the lives of civilians affected by hostilities, and take all possible precautions to minimise harm to civilian infrastructure, including residences, businesses, schools, bridges, broadcasting buildings, and medical facilities, among others. Attacks must solely target combatants and military objectives. Deliberately targeting civilians, conducting disproportionate attacks, and engaging in indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian casualties constitute war crimes. The abduction of civilians and hostage-taking are violations of international law and amount to war crimes.
During conflicts, the occupying power is obligated under the Fourth Geneva Convention to the best of its abilities, “to ensure the provision of food and medical supplies for the civilian population.” The parties involved must permit and enable the swift passage of impartial humanitarian assistance for all civilians in need. While aid may be subject to inspection, it should not be subject to arbitrary delays.
For more information on PEN International work on Israel and Palestine, please see our latest statements: