Hamas denies Red Cross access to imprisoned Israeli soldier


AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL: This year marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Amnesty International. To mark this, Amnesty, in association with The Irish Times,will profile a prisoner each month

AT 11AM last Tuesday, in towns and cities across the state of Israel, life came to a halt. Thousands of men and women stopped what they were doing, downed tools or left their offices, and stepped out into the street to observe five minutes of silence in solidarity with imprisoned Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit; one minute for each year he has been in captivity.

Gilad was born on August 28th, 1986, and is one of Noam and Aviva Shalit’s three children. He holds dual French and Israeli citizenships and the family lives in the north of Israel, where they own a guesthouse. Like most Israeli young people, Gilad was called up to serve in the Israeli army and was stationed at an army base in the south of Israel, near the Gaza Strip.

On June 25th, 2006, the base was attacked by the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades (military wing of Hamas), and the Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), an umbrella group that includes members of several Palestinian armed groups. The attack followed Israeli shelling and air strikes that killed more than 100 Palestinians in the previous month, many of them unarmed civilians and including several children.

The Palestinians killed two Israeli soldiers, injured another and captured Gilad before returning to Gaza.

Since then, Gilad has been held in Gaza. Over five years his family has received a few letters, a tape recording and, most recently in 2009, a video. He has had no other communication with his family. Hamas also refuses to allow the Red Cross access to Gilad in violation of the Geneva Convention.

In 2009, Gilad’s father addressed the UN’s Goldstone Inquiry into possible war crimes committed during the Israeli invasion of Gaza in late 2008 and spoke directly to Palestinians in Gaza.

“Like many of you, we are suffering the consequences of the decisions and failures of others,” he said. “Like many of you, my family and I have been caught up in a web of violence. Like many of you, I pay a heavy price on a daily basis. I know that you are short of food. Some of your loved ones have been killed – women and children, young and innocent.

“I understand your distress and sympathise with your grief. I have visited your wounded and, have witnessed, at first hand, the unnecessary suffering and the unspeakable atrocity of war. But even so, I do not compare suffering.

“As a parent speaking to a multitude of parents – I ask you to understand my family’s anguish.

“As the days go by, we begin to despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares. Whether he is injured or whether he is even alive,” he said.

Unlike many of the prisoners Amnesty International campaigns for, Gilad is not a human rights activist. He is an Israeli soldier captured in a conflict situation. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children have been, and are, the victims of human rights abuses by the Israeli military in Gaza and the West Bank.

But human rights abuses by Israel cannot excuse abuses of human rights by Palestinians. Under international humanitarian law, captured soldiers must be treated humanely.

Gilad Shalit should be allowed prompt access to the Red Cross and allowed to communicate with his family.

You can support this call by logging on to www.amnesty.ie or http://www.amnesty.ie and taking action.