The International Council of Museums (ICOM), an industry group that offers recommendations and ethical standards to institutions across the globe, has released its first public statement on the October 7 attack on Israel by Hamas and the subsequent bombardment of Gaza.
The UNESCO-affiliated organization published the statement on its website today, writing, “Icom expresses its deep concern about the current violence affecting Israeli and Palestinian civilians and deplores the significant humanitarian consequences that the conflict has had over the past weeks.”
The short statement does not directly address Hamas, instead calling on “all parties to respect international law and conventions,” including the 1954 Hague Convention that established protections for cultural property during times of war.
ICOM says it “expects an immediate ceasefire in respect of international humanitarian law in order to prevent further loss of human life and safeguard cultural heritage – which is essential to our collective humanity – and reaffirms its commitment to the principles of peace, understanding, and unity through the preservation and protection of cultural heritage.”
The ICOM statement comes three weeks after Hamas led an attack that killed more than 1,000 Israelis. Some 200 hostages were taken by Hamas; several have since been released. Israel’s military responded by cutting off food, water, and electricity, and launched sustained airstrikes that have killed more than 6,500 people in Gaza, according to its health ministry.
Against the backdrop of these events, the director of every major museum in Israel signed an open letter calling on ICOM to condemn Hamas “with the utmost fervor.” The open letter was published on October 22 by the Israeli division of ICOM.
ICOM has previously published statements in support of Ukraine following its invasion by Russia in 2022, and against anti-Black racism in the United States after the murder of George Floyd in 2020.
Earlier this month, an array of artists and art professionals signed an open letter that was circulated by Artforum and e-flux, and called for an end to “institutional silence around the ongoing humanitarian crisis that 2.3 million Palestinians are facing in the occupied and besieged Gaza Strip be broken immediately.” (After Artforum ran the letter, dealers Dominique Lévy, Brett Gorvy, and Amalia Dayan wrote a response in which they said they “condemn the open letter for its one-sided view,” since the original letter did not include mention of the Hamas attack.)
The United Arab Emirates–based Sharjah Art Foundation, which organizes the prestigious Sharjah Biennial, wrote on Instagram that it stands “firmly in solidarity with Palestine in the face of devastating genocide being carried out on Gazans and the 75 yeas of ongoing illegal Israeli occupation,” while Qatar Museums projected the Palestinian flag onto the facade of the Museum of Islamic Art shortly after the Gaza siege began.
Most US museums have refrained from commenting on the situation in Palestine and Israel. New York’s El Museo del Barrio, one of the few institutions to have done so, issued a statement in which it wrote, “During these fraught times, we continue to host visitors and artists of diverse and differing beliefs and viewpoints.” The museum added that its “sympathies go out to those who are directly, or indirectly by way of diaspora or heritage, affected by the conflict.”