The directors of every major museum in Israel have demanded that the International Council of Museums (Icom) condemn Hamas as a terrorist organisation.
The demand was published in a strongly-worded open letter which circulated on 22 October. “We demand that Icom condemn [Hamas’] acts of terror with the utmost fervour,” the directors say in the letter.
The open letter was published via Icom Israel, the national committee representing Israel in Icom, an organisation affiliated with Unesco which establishes professional and ethical standards for the global museum community. It is titled: “Urgent: Appeal for a Strong Stance by Icom on Recent Events in Israel.”
Written by the chair of Icom Israel, Raz Samira, the letter’s signatories include Suzanne Landau, director of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, Tania Coen-Uzzielli, director of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Tel Aviv and Yotam Yakir, the director of Haifa Museums, as well as the directors of every other major museum in the country.
The letter calls on Icom to take an active, ethical position on the war. It also calls on Icom to recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation comparable with the so-called Islamic State.
“To be clear: This is not another episode in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas and Islamic Jihad have shown themselves to be brutal and inhumane organizations, akin to the Taliban and the Islamic State,” the letter reads.
It goes on to say: “We sincerely implore the Icom community to condemn the massacre of defenceless citizens by Hamas and to declare a bold stance in support of humanity and liberalism."
The Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October killed more than 1,300 people, and left 3,500 wounded as well as around 200 taken hostage. The retaliatory incursion into the Gaza Strip has killed an estimated 4,300 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health authority figures cited by BBC News.
Since the attacks, more than 40 nations—including the US, France, the UK and Germany—have issued public support for Israel’s right to defend itself. These nations “have categorically denounced Hamas and classified its strategies as terrorist,” the letter reads.
“Although we are aware of the critiques aimed at Israel, it is crucial to stress that the horrific attacks carried out by Hamas, backed by Iran, have no excuse, and we vehemently oppose any effort at reasoning them out. Hamas's activities amount to nothing less than the heinous murder, rape, torture, and detention of defenceless civilians.”
The leaders of nations including the UK and US have also focused efforts on diplomacy and ensuring humanitarian aid reaches Gaza. UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak met with Egyptian president Abdul Fattah al-Sisi over the weekend to encourage the reopening of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, where trucks with aid are stationed. US President Joe Biden, meanwhile, released a statement on Saturday in which he said: “The United States remains committed to ensuring that civilians in Gaza will continue to have access to food, water, medical care, and other assistance, without diversion by Hamas.” Last week, Biden also warned of the importance that Israel avoids the “mistakes” the US made after the 9/11 terror attacks.
In recent years, Icom have published statements pertaining to the war in Ukraine and in reaction to the racist murder of George Floyd in the US.
On 24 February 2022, the day on the invasion of Russian forces into Ukraine, Icom released an official statement condemning the destruction and threats to cultural heritage in Ukraine. The statement “strongly condemns this violation of the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine.”
In the statement reflecting on the murder of George Floyd, published on 3 June 2020, Icom wrote: “Museums are not neutral. They are not separate from their social context, the structures of power and the struggles of their communities. And when it does seem like they are separate, that is a choice – the wrong choice.”
A spokesperson for Icom did not respond to a request for comment at the time of publication.