Held captive for 1,825 days – time to end the suffering of Gilad Shalit

By Rachel Campbell from Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Programme.

“As the days go by, we begin to despair of the day when we will see our son again. I know neither where he is held nor how he fares … or whether he is even alive.”
(Noam Shalit, Gilad Shalit’s father, addressing the UN Fact-Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict, 6 July 2009)

Tomorrow marks the fifth year of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit’s captivity. Hamas’ military wing, who are holding him in a secret location in the Gaza Strip, are using him as a hostage with which to conduct their political bargaining with Israel. Since his capture from an army base in southern Israel by Palestinian armed groups on 25 June 2006, he has been denied all contact with the outside world.

Amnesty International is asking activists around the world to sign our petition to Isma’il Haniyeh, Prime Minister of the Hamas de facto administration in Gaza, urging him to alleviate the suffering of Gilad Shalit and his family by immediately complying with its obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure that he is well treated, held in humane and dignified living conditions, and to allow him to communicate with his family, including through sending and receiving letters. Treating Gilad Shalit as a hostage is a flagrant violations of these obligations as Amnesty International stressed again today together with Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights NGOs.

Amnesty International members, who have campaigned for these demands to be met for half a decade, will mark his five years of captivity by sending letters of solidarity and support to the Shalit family.

The Hamas authorities in Gaza say they will not release Gilad Shalit without the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians held in Israel: both are being used as bargaining chips by each side to the conflict. Like Gilad Shalit, hundreds of Palestinian detainees from Gaza are prevented from seeing their families, some for decades. June 2011 also marks the five-year anniversary of Israel’s intensified blockade of Gaza, which prevents families from visiting their relatives in Israeli prisons as well as the movement of people and goods in and out of Gaza.

Gilad Shalit’s family have campaigned tirelessly for his freedom and to hear at least a few words from him as assurance that he is alive and well. Throughout his captivity only three letters from him have been conveyed to Israel. The last sign of life came nearly two years ago in a video broadcast by Israeli television, which showed Gilad Shalit reading a statement while holding a copy of a newspaper dated 14 September 2009.The video was released by his captors in exchange for the release of 20 Palestinian prisoners.

The Shalit family have been forced to endure rumours of his possible death or injury. In January 2009, during the 22-day conflict in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel, in which over 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and 13 Israelis, including three civilians, were killed, it was alleged by a Palestinian group that he had been hit by shrapnel. The Al Hayat newspaper subsequently quoted Hamas deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk as saying: “Shalit may have been wounded, and he may not have been. The subject no longer interests us. We are not interested in his well-being at all, and we are not giving him any special guard since he is worth no more than a cat.”

After Gilad Shalit’s capture, Israel launched a prolonged military offensive against the Gaza Strip, codenamed “Operation Summer Rain”, in which hundreds of Palestinians were killed, including dozens of children and many other unarmed bystanders. At the same time, dozens of Palestinian officials were arrested for use as bargaining chips to negotiate Gilad Shalit’s release. The Gaza Strip was blockaded, leading to humanitarian suffering but not to any improvement in Gilad Shalit’s situation.

Amnesty International continues to campaign for an end to human rights violations carried out on a daily basis against Palestinian men, women and children and for Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza. At the same time, we believe that these abuses must never be used as a justification for denying Gilad Shalit and his family their basic rights.