Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza: Gilad Shalit

by Arsen Ostrovsky
Hudson New York
February 23, 2011

There is one person certainly suffering from a humanitarian crisis in Gaza: Gilad Shalit. He has been held hostage by the terrorist group Hamas, in breach of every international law and human rights convention, for over 40,800 hours,, 1700 days,, 4.5 years; and denied so much as a visit by the Red Cross. Shalit, born in Israel in 1986, was kidnapped by eight Hamas terrorists in an unprovoked attack on June 25, 2006, when he and other Israeli Defence Soldiers were guarding a border crossing named "Kerem Shalom," ironically translated as "Vineyard of Peace," to enable trade between Israel and Gaza. Today of course there is very little trade with Gaza, with the exception of humanitarian supplies, out of fear that terrorists will abuse it to smuggle weapons.

During the attack, two Israeli soldiers, Lieutenant Hanan Barak and Sergeant Pavel Slutzker, both 20, were killed, and three others were seriously injured. At the time of Shalit's abduction, he was 19 years old; this August he will turn 25.

Since that day, with the pitiful exception of one 3-minute video and three letters over a period of four and half years, Shalit has been denied any contact with the outside world: no Red Cross, no Geneva Convention rights, no letters or packages from family: Nothing. The details of his physical condition, and even his location, remain unknown.

At the time of the Flotilla incident last June, so called "peace activists" bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza rejected a request by Shalit's father to bring his son a letter and small package.

As a soldier, Shalit is entitled to certain basic rights afforded to Prisoners of War as enunciated in the Third Geneva Convention: humane treatment (Article 13); knowledge of the location of his captivity (Article 23); regular exchange of correspondence with the outside world (Article 71), and visitation and unfettered access to him by Israeli representatives and the Red Cross (Article 126). In 1700 days of captivity, Hamas has not afforded a single one of these rights to Shalit.

Human Rights Watch states that Hamas authorities are violating the laws of war and that his prolonged incommunicado detention is "cruel and inhumane and may amount to torture". Even the Goldstone Report, which out of 600 plus pages devoted only 2 paragraphs to Gilad Shalit, urged his immediate release on humanitarian grounds, and, pending such release, that he be given the full rights accorded to a prisoner of war under the Geneva Conventions, including visits from the Red Cross.

The response from Hamas or pro-Palestinian activists when the name Shalit is raised, often is: "but what about Israel? They have thousands of our prisoners." The Israeli Prison Service acknowledges that there are approximately 2,000 Hamas prisoners currently serving time in Israeli prisons for offenses of national security. But the Hamas prisoners, together with their associates from Hizballah, Islamic Jihad, PFLP, and so on, had routinely committed war crimes, including indiscriminate and deliberate attacks upon civilians; failure to carry weapons openly; failure to wear fixed distinctive signs recognizable at a distance (many purposely dress as civilians to be indistinguishable from them), and generally failing to conduct their operations in accordance with the laws of war.

Although, unlike Shalit, these individuals are not entitled to the benefits and privileges afforded by the Prisoner of War protections under the Third Geneva Convention, and are subject to prosecution as war criminals, Israel affords them these protections nonetheless. Terror prisoners in Israel have full visitation rights from the families; access to lawyers (paid for by Israel); access to judicial review; regular visits and inspections by Red Cross representatives; and their location is publicly known. Many of these prisoners also receive cell phones, have internet access and the ability to study for further degrees.

Ironically, therefore, fighters belonging to groups like Hamas, and Islamic Jihad, who are not entitled to the protected status of POWs, are afforded those rights by Israel, whereas Shalit, who, as a POW, is entitled to these rights, is afforded not even one of them.

To mark the anniversary of his capture, a two-week Awareness Campaign was launched this week by the Israeli Embassy in London, in coordination with some non-governmental organizations. There will be various events across the UK, including "ad-vans" driving around the country telling Shalit's story. On February 24, vigils will be held also in London, Manchester and Leeds.

Yes, there is a humanitarian crisis in Gaza: the continued detention of Gilad Shalit, 1700 days and counting. Will anyone else speak up?

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