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Egyptian artist Abla condemns Germany's stance on Gaza war

Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla returns Goethe Medal in protest of Germany's 'complicacy' on Gaza war
3 min read
Egypt - Cairo
08 March, 2024
Mohamed Abla, 71, is a celebrated Egyptian sculptor and painter known for his outspoken political views.
Egyptian visual artist Mohamed Abla denounced the German government's stance towards the Israeli war on Gaza. [Courtesy of Mohamed Abla]

Egyptian award-winning artist Mohamed Abla announced on Wednesday evening that he had returned the Goethe Medal, granted to him in 2022, to protest "Germany's complicacy" in the ongoing, brutal Israeli war on the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

Abla, 71, a celebrated sculptor and painter known for his outspoken political views, gave back the prestigious award over what he described as "Germany's dishonourable" stance on Israel's onslaught on Gaza.

"I, Egyptian visual artist Mohamed Abla….declare my resentment and condemnation of the official stance of the German government towards the massacres and genocide the Palestinian people have been subjected to," he said in a statement posted on his social media accounts.

Israel's war on Gaza has killed so far at least 30,800 people since October last year; the majority of those killed by Israel are women and children. 

"After we experienced Germany's shameful stance towards the genocide and ethnic cleansing of unarmed civilians [in Gaza] and its absolute and unconditional support of Israel, I find it unrighteous to keep the award, despite its…value," Abla said in the statement.

Founded in 1951 in Munich as a non-profit organisation, the Goethe Institute was named after celebrated German poet and writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.

"Had he been alive now, Geothe would have supported my position and disavowed his government," Abla said. 

In 2009, Abla founded the Caricature Museum as part of the Fayoum Art Centre, the first of its kind in the Middle East and North Africa.

As of November 2023, Germany has approved the export of military equipment to Israel for nearly 303 million euros (US$323 million) compared to about 32 million euros worth of arms in the previous year. Most of the exports had been granted following Israel's war on Gaza in October last year.

Last month, lawyers representing German citizens whose family members had been killed in Israel's aggression on Gaza filed a criminal complaint against the country's senior politicians for "aiding and backing war crimes and genocide."

In the lawsuit, German politicians, including Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, are held responsible for the "war crimes" and "genocide" in Gaza due to Berlin's increasing role in supplying weapons to Israel in recent months, says Nadija Samour, one of the lawyers in the case.

Israel's aggression on the besieged enclave has brought to the forefront debates on freedom of expression in Germany, with several arts institutions calling off exhibitions due to expressions made by featured artists- particularly on social media - that were deemed "anti-Semitic."

An anonymous group of cultural workers had also launched the Strike Germany campaign earlier this month, calling on artists worldwide to strike from German cultural institutions in response to the silencing of pro-Palestine voices.

Weeks later, the campaign garnered over 1,000 signatories, including Nobel laureate Annie Ernaux and philosopher Judith Butler.

Withdrawals from events kept pouring, with 20 artists dropping out of the CTM music festival. The strike is working its way through the Berlinale Film Festival programme, and it even inspired activists in New York City to disrupt an event at the Goethe Institute.

The German government "decisively and expressly" rejected South Africa's case against Israel before the International Court of Justice (ICJ), calling it a "political instrumentalisation" of the UN Genocide Convention with "no basis."

The 1948 Genocide Convention, enacted in the wake of the mass murder of Jews in the Nazi Holocaust in Germany, defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".