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A petition with 500 signatures has been submitted, expressing criticism towards PEN America's position on the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

A petition with 500 signatures has been submitted, expressing criticism towards PEN America’s position on the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

A group of writers and literary experts have written an open letter to PEN America, urging the organization to take a firmer position on the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Over 500 individuals, including authors Roxane Gay, Maaza Mengiste, and Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah, have signed the letter.

The letter, which was written on February 3 but is still accepting signatures, criticizes PEN America for not speaking out about the deaths of Palestinian journalists, writers, and poets at the hands of Israel. This criticism is based on the fact that PEN America has only mentioned these deaths in press releases that are difficult to find on their website.

Four days later, on 7 February, PEN America published a press release stating it was “anguished about the direct impact of the current conflict between Israel and Hamas on writers, artists, culture”.

The organization expressed its optimistic outlook on the ongoing multinational talks, anticipating a ceasefire that is mutually agreed upon to bring an end to the destructive airstrikes. They also hoped for a resolution to be reached that would protect lives in the area, preserve diverse cultures, and pave the way for a lasting peace that allows for freedom and creativity for everyone. Despite this, some writers reacted with criticism to the statement. Eman Quotah, a novelist, urged PEN America to take action and call for a ceasefire like other PEN Centers have done, rather than simply hoping for one.

A letter dated February 3, signed by writers such as Jamel Brinkley, Saeed Jones, and Laura van den Berg, urged PEN America to break out of its passive, lukewarm, and indecisive stance and take a definitive stand against a real genocide. The letter also called on PEN America to show the same level of fervor and dedication it has for banned books in speaking up for the human rights of individuals in Palestine.

The letter stated that if PEN America is unable to fulfill its purpose of protecting, promoting, and elevating marginalized writers who are targeted by harmful powers, it should disband. The letter also criticized the organization for hosting an event with Mayim Bialik, who has spoken against the ceasefire in Israel, and demanded an apology to Palestinian-American writer Randa Jarrar, who was forcibly removed from the event for protesting. In response, PEN America issued a statement expressing regret for having to remove a protester by security in order for the event to continue, as most protesters had already left after voicing their opinions.

PEN America denies being “quiet” about the war. A spokesperson informed the Guardian that since October 7, the organization has issued approximately twenty statements addressing the crisis in Israel and Gaza and its impact on freedom of expression and speech.

The open letter has coincided with #BooksforGaza, a fundraising sale of signed books donated by authors including Salman Rushdie, Sally Rooney, Ali Smith and Kamila Shamsie. The auction, which ends on Monday evening, has raised over £55,000 for The Ghassan Abu Sittah Children’s Fund, an organisation that helps transport injured Gazan children to Lebanon for medical and social treatment and care.

Source: theguardian.com