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Four years of suffering

July 5, 2010

25 June 2006, Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants close to the Gaza border. He has been held by Hamas ever since, most of the time incommunicado. Hamas has only passed on three letters from him, and has refused to allow either his family or the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to visit him.

In the four years since the capture of Shalit, Hamas, Hizbollah and other armed groups have fired innumerable rockets on Israeli border towns, and Israel has launched brutal attacks on Lebanon and Gaza – as well as on an international convoy of ships trying to break the Israeli blockade of the Gaza strip.

The result of all these acts of violence has – predictably – been nothing but death and disaster. Thousands have been killed and wounded, and the suffering has been – and still is – downright intolerable. After four years of escalating bloodshed and tragedy, the fate of one individual soldier might seem like a drop in the ocean. However, Gilad Shalit is not forgotten. Nor should he be.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country on Friday 25 June to mark four years since the capture of Shalit. A convoy of motorcyclists was to spread out to the embassies of the United Nations permanent Security Council members, urging them to pressure Hamas for Shalit’s release, Haaretz wrote.

It is not only in Israel that Gilad Shalit is remembered. Human Rights Watch (HRW) marked four years since the abduction with a statement denouncing the prolonged incommunicado detention of Shalit.

– Hamas authorities in Gaza should immediately end the cruel and inhuman treatment of Staff Sgt. Gilad Shalit of Israel and allow him to communicate with his family and receive visits from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), HRW said in the statement.

The organisation also states that the laws of war prohibit cruel and inhuman treatment of persons in custody and require a party to a conflict to permit prisoners to correspond with their families and to allow requests by the ICRC to visit detainees.

– Hamas’s cruel treatment of Shalit causes him and his family needless suffering. Regardless of Hamas’s grievances against Israel, there are no grounds to cut Shalit off completely from his family, said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.

Keeping Shalit incommunicado is not only against the laws of war, but is also rather counterproductive. If you want peace, that is. Shalit and his family are not the only ones suffering as a result of Hamas’ decision keep him prisoner in an undisclosed and isolated location. The longer Shalit is held, the clearer it becomes that he is being used as a bargaining chip in the Israel/Gaza conflict. Not only by Hamas, but by the Israeli government as well. However, it takes two parties to play war games. By allowing the ICRC to visit Shalit, Hamas can lower the ante in this deadly game. Granting him his rights as a prisoner of war, as the Goldstone report recommends, could possibly be one small step towards a slightly more peaceful Middle East. A small step for mankind, perhaps, but a giant leap for one man.

Go to  Amnesty International’s website and send an email to Hamas leaders Khaled Meshaal and Mahmoud Zahar, demanding that Red Cross is allowed to visit Gilad Shalit immediately!

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