- The evidence plainly demonstrates that Gilad Shalit is not a high priority for human rights NGOs, despite NGO claims to the contrary. There is no evidence that NGOs have undertaken sustained campaigns in support of Shalit’s rights.
- Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have made only infrequent references to Shalit. These are always in the context of condemning Israel for “war crimes,” “wanton destruction,” and “collective punishment.”
- After NGO Monitor publicized this issue, Amnesty published a report entitled “Detainees used as bargaining chips by both sides in Israel/Gaza conflict.” The authors drew an absurd parallel between the Shalit family situation and Palestinian families whose visiting rights to prisoners were limited.
- Most Israeli groups – PHR-I, Gisha, Yesh Din, and ACRI – have published one or two statements in support of Shalit. (As expected, Palestinian groups that claim to promote human rights have a similar record. )
- B’Tselem’s minimal comments on Shalit’s predicament contrast with the frequency and emphasis on allegations of Israeli “violations of international law.”
On March 15, 2009, to mark 1000 days since his kidnapping, NGO Monitor issued a press release about Gilad Shalit, “highlight[ing] the almost total silence and inaction of human rights NGOs over his fate,” in particular Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch (HRW), and B’Tselem. Shalit has been held captive in Gaza since June, 25 2006 without access for the International Committee of the Red Cross, in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention. During this period, when international and Israeli NGOs published hundreds of reports and press releases alleging Israeli “war crimes,” especially regarding Gaza, only a handful of statements addressed Shalit’s plight, despite the irrefutable, ongoing violation of his rights. As the evidence plainly demonstrates – though these organizations do not dispute the grave violation of his rights – Gilad Shalit is not a high priority for human rights NGOs.
International humanitarian law was enacted to guarantee the rights and protections of prisoners of war. The Third Geneva Convention lays out these rights unequivocally: the right to humane treatment (article 13); the right to have knowledge of a POW’s location (article 23); the right to send and receive letters and cards on a monthly basis (article 71); the right to unfettered access to the Red Cross (article 126), and others.
Inadequate NGO “campaigns” on behalf of Gilad Shalit
Despite claims to the contrary, there is no evidence that NGOs have undertaken sustained campaigns in support of Shalit’s rights or calling for his release. Instead, some NGOs have published occasional statements (tending to correspond to the one-year and 1000 day anniversaries of Shalit’s capture), while others have ignored Shalit completely. Additionally, many NGO reports mention Shalit to condemn Israel for counterterrorism measures taken in the aftermath of his capture; Israel is accused of “war crimes,” while Shalit’s rights are erased.Amnesty International – Relative to HRW and Israeli NGOs, Amnesty International has taken a slightly more active interest in Gilad Shalit. Since June 2006, Amnesty has published 33 “urgent actions” relating to Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. None has addressed Gilad Shalit. But according to a news report, “Amnesty International has been working with the Shalit family,” and Amnesty’s Philip Luther claimed that “the Shalit case… had been taken up as a campaign by group members.” At the same time, Amnesty’s official mechanisms for confronting rights violations, including global “appeals for action,” and press releases and reports that are widely adopted by the international media, have largely been silent on Gilad Shalit. When Amnesty does call for the protection of his rights, it is always in the context of condemning Israel for “war crimes,” “wanton destruction,” and “collective punishment.”
- Amnesty did not comment on Shalit’s abduction until after Israel’s military response. The first statement (June 28, 2006) declared “hostage-taking…must cease,” but featured “concern[s] [about] the excessive use of force and wanton destruction of civilian property and infrastructure by Israeli forces.”
- A second press release (June 30, 2006) demanded “Gilad Shalit should be released immediately and unharmed,” but primarily focused on Israeli “deliberate attacks,” which “constitute war crimes.”
- After NGO Monitor publicized Amnesty’s silence on Shalit, Amnesty published a report entitled “Detainees used as bargaining chips by both sides in Israel/Gaza conflict.” Amnesty juxtaposes the Shalit family, who does not know the whereabouts or medical condition of Gilad, with Palestinian families who are temporarily unable to visit their relatives in Israeli prisons because the security situation demands a closure of the Gaza border. There is no established international right to family visitation in prison. These statements also ignore that Shalit has been denied all access to the Red Cross, as opposed to prisoners in Israeli jails who have regular contact with Red Cross officials.
Human Rights Watch – In response to NGO Monitor’s statement, HRW official Joe Stork replied, “We have commented on this case on a number of occasions. The idea that we have commented on everything but this is ridiculous.” However, HRW’s statements on Gilad Shalit are infrequent, and without exception are accompanied by condemnations against Israeli responses to Palestinian terror from Gaza.
- After Shalit’s capture (June 28, 2006), an HRW official said, “[m]ilitants are using Corporal Gilad Shalit as a hostage to bargain for the release of Palestinians in Israeli custody, and that’s a war crime.” Another statement (July 5, 2006) also referred to this violation of international humanitarian law.
- The June 2006 statement was entitled “Israeli offensive must limit harm to civilians,” and included accusations of “needlessly punish[ing] the civilian population.” The majority of the press release, including the entire concluding paragraph, deals with Israel, indicating that Israeli “violations” were the impetus for HRW’s reporting, while Gilad Shalit was a secondary consideration.
- Similarly, in July 2007, HRW called on “[t]he group holding the soldier hostage [to] release [him] immediately.” However, the report also alleges Israeli violations in attempts to secure Shalit’s release: “It was only after Corporal Shalit’s capture that Israel started arresting Hamas legislators and ministers who had participated in Israeli-sanctioned Palestinian elections in January 2006…Israel’s response to hostage-taking should not include arbitrary arrests.”
- In other publications HRW condemns the immediate Israeli responses to this illegal kidnapping and to the increased rocket attacks from Gaza: “after a Palestinian armed group from Gaza captured the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and unlawfully held him as a hostage, the Israeli Air Force fired eight missiles at Gaza’s sole power plant, rendering the six transformers inoperable” (January 13, 2009).
- In one instance, HRW downplays the violations of Shalit’s rights, while amplifying Israeli “war crimes”: “Since Hamas took over the Palestinian Authority in March 2006, following its electoral victory the previous January, and especially after Hamas captured Israeli corporal Gilad Shalit that June, Israel has made it exceedingly difficult for Palestinians to leave Gaza…Statements by Israeli officials this week appear to acknowledge that the blockade amounts to collective punishment” (January 25, 2008).
B’Tselem – In response to NGO Monitor’s statement, B’Tselem accused NGO Monitor of “cynically manipulate[ing]” the Shalit family, but did not address the substance of the issue. In fact, B’Tselem, the largest Israeli human rights organization, scarcely comments on Shalit’s predicament.
- Immediately after Gilad Shalit’s capture, B’Tselem joined seven other NGOs in calling for his captors to “adhere to the Geneva Convention which decrees responsibility to protect wounded and sick members of the armed forces” (June 27, 2006). B’Tselem also individually called on “Palestinian militant organizations to release the abducted soldier, Cpl. Gilad Shalit, and until that time, ensure that he remains healthy and safe” (July 2, 2006).
- On June 25, 2007, B’Tselem proclaimed “holding Gilad Shalit as a hostage is a war crime” and Hamas “bears the responsibility to act to release Shalit immediately and unconditionally.” This was repeated in the 2008 Annual Report.
- On March 18, 2008, after NGO Monitor’s press release, and on the occasion of Shalit’s 1000th day in captivity, B’Tselem again repeated that “the leadership of Hamas is obligated to release Shalit immediately and unconditionally.”
- In the majority of its statements mentioning Gilad Shalit, B’Tselem, like the other political NGOs, does not demand his release or rightful treatment. Rather, B’Tselem alleges that Israel violates international humanitarian law through measures which it claims are meant to “punish and pressure the Palestinian leadership” (August 1, 2007), “collective[ly] punish the civilian population in the Gaza Strip,” (August 30, 2006; also here and here) and “to satisfy a desire for revenge” (September 27, 2006; and “vengeance“). Similar reports dismiss Israeli security needs (February 23, 2007).
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel
- On June 27, 2006, two days after Shalit’s capture, PHR-I along with four Israeli groups (B’Tselem, ACRI, PCATI, and HaMoked) and three Palestinian NGOs (Addameer, Al-Mezan, and GCMHP) called for “all groups holding the wounded soldier Gilad Shalit to adhere to the Geneva Convention which decrees responsibility to protect wounded and sick members of the armed forces and responsibility to provide adequate medical attention.”
- Immediately afterward, PHR-I accused Israel of “revenge and an instilment of fear in the civilian population, both of which are clearly forbidden,” “since the solider Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian organizations” (July 3, 2006).
- At the request of Miki Goldwasser, the mother of an Israeli soldier who was missing in action (his body and that of a comrade were returned to Israel in July 2008), PHR-I appealed (February 22, 2007) to Lebanese human rights organizations to press for Red Cross visitation rights and “information about their condition and whereabouts.” There is no indication that the matter was pursued beyond the initial letter.
- Since then, PHR-I, which was founded “with the goal of struggling for human rights, in particular the right to health,” has ignored Hamas’ refusal to grant the Red Cross access to Shalit .
- Gisha’s ostensible goal is “to protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.” For the first 1000 days of his captivity, the denial of Gilad Shalit’s freedom of movement was ignored by Gisha.
- On March 19, 2009, Gisha published a press release entitled “Additional restrictions on the movement of goods into Gaza – a continuation of Israel’s immoral Gaza policy.” The statement declares, “the return of Shalit to his family and home is a worthwhile goal,” but continues by condemning Israel for “using its control of the crossings to tighten the strangulation of the Gaza Strip as a means of increasing its political bargaining power [which] is strictly prohibited by international law.”
- Gisha also signed a “Petition to renew family visitations for prisoners from the Gaza Strip being held in Israeli prisons” (June 12, 2008; also signed by HaMoked, Adameer, B’Tselem, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Yesh Din, the Gaza Center for Mental Health, Physicians for Human Rights and DCI-Palestine). The petition stated, “with due respect to the wish to have Gilad Shalit receive visits and [be] released soon, collectively depriving fundamental rights from the Palestinian prisoners in order to pressure others for this purpose, is tantamount to using the prisoners as bargaining chips.” No demand for family visitations for Gilad Shalit was made in this petition.
Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI)
- ACRI signed the call for “all groups holding the wounded soldier Gilad Shalit to adhere to the Geneva Convention which decrees responsibility to protect wounded and sick members of the armed forces and responsibility to provide adequate medical attention.”
- Between June 2006 and March 2009 (1000 days), ACRI did not advocate on behalf of Shalit.
- On March 18, 2009, in response to reports that Israeli authorities were considering restrictions on Palestinian prisoners, ACRI finally released a statement on Shalit: “It is important and proper to do the utmost to return Gilad Shalit to his home. However, any attempt to deny Hamas prisoners their basic rights, that every person deserves, and are illegally denied to Gilad Shalit, is wrong and will cause significant damage to Israel as a democratic state” (translated from the original Hebrew).
When pressed, human-rights NGOs agree that Hamas continues to violate international law by refusing to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to Shalit. Yet, these groups have failed to pursue a concerted effort on his behalf, and repeatedly demonstrate that Shalit’s fate is a low priority. In fact, many NGOs – especially Israeli groups such as B’Tselem, Gisha, Yesh Din, ACRI, and others – appear more willing to advocate for the rights of Palestinian prisoners and against Israeli government policy than to support a fellow citizen and Israeli soldier. The overwhelming NGO silence on Gilad Shalit, both internationally and in Israel, is a significant moral failure.