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Op-Ed: Act to free Gilad Shalit

TEL AVIV (JTA) — People throughout the world, including the beleaguered south of Israel, of all places, are collecting and donating humanitarian aid to Gaza. Courts of law in numerous countries are being employed against Israelis to issue civil lawsuits and undertake criminal investigations using allegations of "war crimes," "crimes against humanity" and other alleged violations of international law.

By contrast, there are very few calls for the filing of cases against any war crimes perpetrated by Hamas, and there is a resounding silence regarding the violation of Gilad Shalit’s rights under the Geneva Conventions as a prisoner of war.

While worldwide attention is concentrated on the Palestinians’ humanitarian plight, where is the concern about the condition of one Israeli in Gaza who has been denied very basic human rights for 959 days, and counting?

Gilad Shalit has been held in captivity in Gaza, whereabouts unknown, since early Sunday morning, June 25, 2006, when a Gazan terror cell launched a cross-border attack on an Israel Defense Forces post near Kibbutz Kerem Shalom in southern Israel. Lt. Hanan Barak from Arad and Sgt. Pavel Slocker from Dimona were killed in the attack in which Gilad Shalit was kidnapped.

Nearly 1,000 days later, we ask: Where is Gilad Shalit? No one outside of Gaza knows and no one in Gaza is willing to say.

Hamas, as the "declared" government of Gaza, must abide by international conventions if it is to be recognized. Yet Hamas is content to bargain with Gilad’s life and deny him his most basic human right as a prisoner of war. All Palestinian prisoners in Israel are entitled to visits by the International Red Cross. These prisoners can all be accounted for. We are asking for the International Red Cross to be given access to Gilad Shalit now.

At the recent rally to mark 21 years since the founding of Hamas, the world witnessed an abhorrent spectacle on TV: A young boy dressed in IDF uniform masqueraded as Gilad Shalit and read from a prepared text in Hebrew saying that he missed his parents, while 200,000 Gazans jeered.

Imagine if Gilad were your son, grandson, brother, nephew or neighbor? What would you do if you knew that he was less than a two-hour drive from you and there was no way to get to him? Why can’t a member of the International Red Cross visit Gilad? We want tangible evidence that he is alive. We want this now, ahead of any prisoner exchange.

There is a precedent for the involvement of the International Red Cross with Israeli prisoners of war. On Sept. 11, 1969, an Israeli fighter plane was downed over Egypt and the pilot, Capt. Giora Rom, bailed out. Rom was wounded and taken captive. He was returned to Israel three months later.

During his captivity, the International Red Cross visited Rom. In a recent radio interview, he said he thought his life was over until this visit, which gave him reason to hope and to live, and to expect that one day he would be released.

Gilad Shalit has had no such moral support. He remains in captivity, all alone.

The International Red Cross works in Gaza. We want the organization to provide us with the answer to our question: Where is Gilad Shalit?

In the 1970s and 1980s, Jewish communities around the world asserted themselves in the “free Soviet Jewry” campaign. It was a grass-roots movement comprising Jews of all ages and backgrounds who had a single aim: to free their Russian brethren who were arrested and imprisoned for openly expressing their desire to leave the Soviet Union and immigrate to Israel. Not a day went by without demonstrations, and letter-writing and telephone campaigns, organized to target Soviet embassies, consulates, businesses, artists and sportsmen, and to lobby lawmakers to exert diplomatic pressure on the Soviet Union.

We ask that people worldwide organize themselves along similar lines now to help Gilad Shalit.

Those who care about human rights should take Gilad into their hearts. Contact your member of parliament, congressman, elected official or any agency purporting to stand up for human rights and ask them to act. Contact your synagogues, churches, organizations or clubs that you attend to enlist support. Organize a vigil outside the Red Cross headquarters in your country and inform the media.

Do not let a day go by without thinking of Gilad Shalit and doing what you can to find out where he is.

While the world is focused on Gaza and the plight of the Palestinians, we must not forget Gilad Shalit.

(Zelda Harris, who lives in Israel, was a leading activist in the 35’s-Women’s Campaign for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s and is a former director of BIPAC-Israel. Marian Lebor, who also lives in Israel, is a freelance writer and filmmaker who was active in the universities committee for Soviet Jewry in the 1970s.)

 

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