OPT/Israel: freedom of expression in OPT and Israel must be respected without discrimination

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PEN International is appalled by the escalating situation in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT), including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and expresses its grave concerns over the mounting violations to freedom of expression in recent days. PEN calls for the immediate halt of hostilities and stresses that civilians, including journalists, should never be targets of military operations.

PEN International is horrified by the news of Israeli airstrikes that targeted buildings in the Gaza strip, including the al-Jawhara office building, which contains offices of at least 13 media organizations, and the attacks against Palestinian journalists. Destruction of media offices and violence against journalists are serious violations of press freedom and should be immediately halted.

PEN International strongly condemns the excessive use of force by Israeli authorities against peaceful Palestinian protestors and worshippers, calling for the respect and protection of the Palestinians’ right to peaceful protest in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. It is also concerned over reports of social media platforms taking down Palestinian hashtags and posts mentioning the possible eviction of Palestinians from East Jerusalem. PEN International reminds social media companies of their responsibility to respect human rights, including freedom of expression. Social media platforms should ensure that Palestinians have the right to freely express themselves without discrimination.

“Truth is the first casualty in a war, and with both parties at conflict using the means of propaganda at their disposal, it is vital for people in OPT and Israel to have access to information that is not made invisible by the fog of war. It also means allowing people to express their views freely, so long as the views are not an incitement to imminent violence. Companies must not enable censorship that could distort perceptions of the conflict,” said Salil Tripathi, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

The recent escalation in violence in Israel and OPT followed weeks of rising tensions in East Jerusalem triggered by Israeli authorities’ attempt to evict Palestinian families from their houses in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. United Nations officials condemned the efforts to evict Palestinian families on the grounds of violations of international law. The attempt sparked a wave of protests inside Israel and the OPT, which was met by excessive force from the Israeli authorities. According to the Palestinian Red Crescent Society, 915 Palestinians were injured between 7 and 10 May in East Jerusalem and over 200 in the West Bank, most by Israeli security forces. Approximately 20 Israelis, the majority of whom were members of security forces, had reportedly also been injured.

PEN International reminds the Israeli authorities of their responsibility to respect and protect the right to freedom of expression of Palestinian citizens of Israel, and of their wider responsibilities under international law.

For more information, please contact Mina Thabet, MENA Regional Coordinator, at PEN International, Koops Mill Mews, Unit A, 162-164 Abbey St, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: Mina.Thabet@pen-international.org