Artists, filmmakers, musicians, and writers around the world are calling on world governments to impose an arms embargo on Israel and to lift the siege of Gaza. Shepard Fairey, Lawrence Abu Hamdan, Antony Gormley, and Naomi Klien are among over 350 creatives who signed an open letter published last week.
“Gaza’s almost two million inhabitants, predominantly refugees, face a mortal threat in the world’s largest open-air prison,” the letter says, warning against a potential COVID-19 catastrophe in Gaza.
The statement was released on May 13, a date that marks two years since the killing of 60 Palestinian civilians by Israeli army snipers during the Great March of Return protests in Gaza.
Other signatories on the letter include visual artists Celine Condorelli, Kevin Beasley, and Tai Shani; actors Viggo Mortensen, Julie Christie, and Steve Coogan; musicians Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, and Roger Waters; authors Irvine Welsh, Jeanette Winterson, and Philip Pullman; and film directors Mike Leigh and Ken Loach. Film producer James Schamus, filmmaker and writer Ariella Azoulay, and the band Massive Attack have also signed the letter.
“International pressure is urgently needed to make life in Gaza liveable and dignified,” the open letter reads. “Israel’s siege must be ended. And most urgently, a potentially devastating outbreak must be prevented.”
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Gaza currently stands at 20. But this low number of reported infections might be due to lack of testing. A spokesperson for Gaza’s health ministry told Reuters in April that authorities stopped testing after coronavirus test kits “completely ran out.”
Later in April, the Jerusalem Post reported that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) had initially proposed to test Palestinian for COVID-19 at the Israeli Tzrifin checkpoint outside the Gaza Strip but the plan was blocked on the government level.
According to other reports, Israel and Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, have been negotiating a deal in which the Hamas government would return captured soldiers to Israel in return for COVID-19 relief.
Meanwhile, a group of Palestinian, Israeli, and international humanitarian and human rights organizations has called for the lifting of the 13-year Israeli blockade on Gaza and urged the international community to assist local clinics in addressing their severe shortages of medical equipment.
“What happens in Gaza is a test for the conscience of humanity,” the open letter says. “In these times of international crisis, we must stand for justice, peace, freedom, and equal rights for all, regardless of identity or creed. We may be staying at home, but our ethical responsibility shouldn’t.”