Red Cross defends record on soldiers


NEW YORK (JTA) – In her speech at the rally here last week on behalf of her husband and other kidnapped Israeli soldiers, Karnit Goldwasser demanded to know: “Where is the Red Cross?”

This week the international organization insisted it has been doing all it can to gain access to Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Shalit, Israeli soldiers kidnapped last summer by Hamas and Hezbollah during raids on Israeli soil.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has “in fact, taken the matter of the three captured Israeli soldiers seriously from the very onset,” said the organization’s spokesman, Simon Schorno. The Red Cross, he added, brought up the issue “every time we met with Hamas officials and Hezbollah officials.”

In addition, the organization’s Web site features an interview in which its president, Jakob Kellenberger, states: “We deeply deplore the fact that the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian factions in Gaza have so far denied our delegates access, and that several attempts to transmit family news such as Red Cross messages or to obtain a sign of life were rejected.”

Schorno said the Red Cross has been unsuccessful in repeated attempts to gain access to the Israelis.

“We made a series of public calls for the three soldiers to be treated according to basic principles of humanity,” he said. “It’s a very pressing issue, one that unfortunately has not developed in any substantial way.”

Marc Stern, assistant executive director and general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, said the Red Cross is doing all it can given the nature of the terrorist organizations holding the soldiers.

“What’s perplexing is people are blaming the Red Cross when really it’s Hezbollah and Hamas,” Stern said. “You can’t expect the Red Cross to go in with guns blazing to free these guys.”

The Red Cross “reached out to us,” he added. “They are, as far as we can tell, working to establish contact with the soldiers.”

Representatives from the UJA-Federation of New York and Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, which helped organized the rally that featured several prominent local politicians and high-ranking Jewish leaders, did not respond to requests for comments.

Stern said he believed that people in the Jewish community are unfairly targeting the Red Cross because of their memories of past misdeeds, including the organization’s refusal until last summer to recognize Israel’s Magen David Adom.

“The Red Cross didn’t exactly distinguish itself during World War II,” Stern said, referring to widespread criticism that it didn’t do enough for those in the concentration camps. “Now they are a different Red Cross. It’s not fair to act as if nothing has changed.”

In response to a question about how effective the Red Cross has been in trying to reach the kidnapped soldiers, the Israeli Consulate in New York released a statement saying that “Israel is calling upon all international organizations, including the U.N. and the Red Cross, to fulfill their mission and obtain information about the kidnapped soldiers and help secure their immediate release and return home to their families.”

Schorno said the Red Cross would continue to press Hamas and Hezbollah.

“We’re not taking no for an answer,” he said. “We’re not letting this slip off the radar.”

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