NGOs, Universal Human Rights and Gilad Shalit: Four Years of Double Standards
For most of the four years since the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, most human rights NGOs have ignored his situation. Shalit was taken from Israeli territory on June 25, 2006 and has since been held captive in Gaza without access to the International Committee of the Red Cross, in direct contravention of the Geneva Convention.
On the fourth anniversary of Shalit’s capture, most of these NGOs continued their silence. The exceptions were Human Rights Watch (HRW), B’Tselem, and the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI): HRW and PCATI called for Hamas to allow access to Shalit, while B’Tselem called for his release. Amnesty International, which was initially active, to a limited degree, on the Shalit issue, was silent.
In addition to releasing a statement in both 2009 and 2010 on the anniversary of Shalit’s capture, HRW has mentioned Shalit in several press releases, but has not engaged in any significant campaign. According to HRW officials, “Hamas officials refused Human Rights Watch’s request to visit Shalit and check on his conditions of confinement during a meeting in Gaza in May , saying that they would not take the risk that his location could be discovered, even though Human Rights Watch had offered to travel to the site blindfolded and to accept any other security precautions that Hamas wanted.”
However, to offset this statement, HRW noted that since June 2007, Israel has prevented Palestinian detainees from Gaza from having family visits, claiming that this is a violation of the Geneva Conventions. (They are allowed to exchange letters, unlike Shalit). HRW’s presentation of international law is a distortion.1
- Gaza: Allow Access to Gilad Shalit (June 25, 2010)
- Gaza: Allow Shalit Contact With Family, International Red Cross (June 24, 2009)
Brief mentions of Gilad Shalit:
- Israel/Gaza: Easing Blockade of Imports a First Step (June 21, 2010)
- Israel/Gaza: Weak Mandate Undermines Flotilla Inquiry (June 16, 2010)
- Israel: Investigate Unlawful Destruction in Gaza War (May 13, 2010)
On the third and fourth anniversaries of Shalit’s capture, B’Tselem issued press statements calling for his release. Additionally, the “Gaza Strip” section of the B’Tselem website includes a sub-section entitled “Hamas must release Gilad Shalit immediately.” There is also a section on Gilad Shalit in the article, “The siege on the Gaza Strip.”
- Four years since the abduction of the soldier Gilad Shalit – Hamas must release him immediately (June 24, 2010)
- The siege on the Gaza Strip: 1.5 million people imprisoned- Holding Gilad Shalit as a hostage – a grave breach
- In “Gaza Strip” section of website, sub-section entitled “Hamas must release Gilad Shalit immediately”
- Hamas must release Gilad Shalit immediately and unconditionally (June 25, 2009)
- 1,000 days since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped. Hamas must release him immediately and unconditionally (March 18, 2009)
Immediately following Shalit’s capture, relative to other NGOs, Amnesty took a more active interest in his case. However, Amnesty’s last statement in support of Gilad Shalit’s rights is from November 24, 2009.
Following reports that Shalit would be released in a prisoner exchange, Amnesty called for humane treatment, ICRC access, and regular communication with his family. Simultaneously, Amnesty “criticized the Israeli authorities’ use of administrative detention,” immorally equating Hamas’ treatment of Shalit and Israel’s policy on Palestinian prisoners from Gaza.
In statements on June 1, 2010 and June 17, 2010, Amnesty mentioned Gilad Shalit as one of Israel’s “justifications for the blockade” and “collective punishment.” Riccardo Pacifici, president of the Rome Jewish Community, noted the “significant absence” of Amnesty International representatives at a June 2010 interfaith ceremony at Rome’s Colosseum that called for Shalit’s release.
- Detainees in Israel and Occupied Palestinian Territories Must Be Treated Humanely (November 24, 2009)
Physicians for Human Rights-Israel (PHR-I)
PHR-I last mentioned Gilad Shalit in a news article on August 24, 2009 in the context of the decision of the Israel Prison Services (IPS) to prevent visits to security prisoners jailed in Israel. PHR-I alleged that the right to family visits is enshrined in international treaties, and called for the release of Shalit. “Until then, we should ensure that he is held under conditions that meet international conventions and allow the Red Cross to visit him and pass information to his family.”
- “PHR-I against the decision of the Israel Prison Services: They should enable visits to security detainees” (Nana 10, August 24, 2009)
For the first 1000 days of his captivity, Gisha (which claims to advocate for freedom of movement) made no reference to Gilad Shalit’s kidnapping, imprisonment and inhumane treatment. In March 2009, Gisha stated that “the return of Shalit to his family and home is a worthwhile goal,” but has been silent on the issue since then.
Gisha’s “Frequently Asked Questions: Restrictions on passage of goods into and out of Gaza” include the following question: “Why does Israel have to help Palestinians in Gaza when they continue to fire rockets at Israel and hold Corporal Gilad Shalit?”. In the answer, Gisha claims that Israel’s closure of Gaza is “collective punishment in contravention to international law.” While Hamas’ firing of rockets on Israeli civilians is “unacceptable and constitutes a grave breach of international law,” Gisha maintains that “This and the ongoing captivity of Gilad Shalit do not… justify the imposition of restrictions on freedom of movement for the entire civilian population of the Strip, effectively punishing them for political or other circumstances which are beyond their control.”
Public Committee against Torture in Israel (PCATI)
On June 26, 2010, PCATI called on the authorities in Gaza holding Gilad Shalit “to bring his incommunicado detention to an immediate end and to facilitate immediate visitation by the Red Cross or by an international agency.” In 2006, two days after Shalit’s capture, PCATI was part of a group of Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that 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.”
- The Third Geneva Convention lays out the rights of prisoners of war: 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. Family visits are not specifically addressed.