On December 2, Palestinian artist Mohammad Sabaaneh was delighted to travel to the headquarters of the International Criminal Court in The Hague to open an exhibition of his art mounted in the court’s corridors at the time of the 18th session of the ICC’s Assembly of States Parties to the court’s founding statute. The State of Palestine has been a member of the ICC since 2015 and has several key cases it has brought before before the court.
Interest in the exhibition, in which Sabaaneh wielded his expert cartoonist’s pen and keen senses of both injustice and surrealism, was high. But two night later, the exhibition suddenly disappeared– from the court’s own hallways!
Palestine’s ambassador to the Netherlands (and the ICC), Rawan Sulaiman was shocked that such a blatant act of discourse suppression had taken place within the ICC’s own premises. The exhibition was being hosted by both the State of Palestine and Palestinian Human Rights Organization Al-Haq at, obviously, the invitation of the ICC.
The ICC’s administrators, alerted to the disappearance of the artworks, initiated a search and found them stowed away in another location, still inside the building. They rehung the exhibition, and this time assured Amb. Sulaiman that it was under police protection.
In a statement issued today, the Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates stated that it,
condemns in the strongest terms this hateful act. We view it as a desperate attempt to silence the voices of Palestinian victims, which were so powerfully reflected in the exhibition. The artwork by internationally-renowned Palestinian cartoonist Mohammad Sabaaneh depicted the impact of the criminal policies and practices of the Israeli occupation on the victims in the situation in Palestine.
The ministry also noted that it had been formally informed that the Court is currently conducting an investigating into this grave incident, adding, “We expect this investigation to be thorough and transparent and that strong measures will be taken following its conclusion. “
Mohammad Sabaaneh is the author of the cartoon collection White and Black: Political Cartoons from Palestine (published in the UK as Palestine in Black and White.) He is himself a former political prisoner of the Israelis, having been held by the Israeli military authorities in the West Bank for five months without any trial, back in 2013. He is also the Middle East regional representative for Cartoonists Right Network International, and has been an outspoken advocate for the rights of cartoonists imprisoned or otherwise harassed in many of the region’s countries.
The vandalism apparently carried out against Sabaaneh’s exhibition in The Hague is just the latest example of a hard-hitting campaign of discourse suppression that anyone who speaks up for the human rights of Palestinians has been subjected to for many decades.
As long-time admirers of Sabaaneh’s work, we at Just World Educational join the international call for the ICC to conduct a thorough and transparent investigation into this incident and to take the strongest possible measures in response to it. The voices of Palestinians must not be silenced!