For three years, Gilad Shalit has languished in captivity. That captivity is illegal and both the way it has been managed by Hamas as well as Shalit’s capture itself do not fall within the boundaries of “prisoner of war” status, but rather that of a hostage. Hostage-taking is a blatant violation of international law. Today, as Shalit enters his fourth year of imprisonment, the organization I work for, B’Tselem, has renewed its call for his release.
It often happens that when one discusses Shalit the response is “what about all the Palestinian prisoners being illegally held by Israel?” B’Tselem, of course, does enormous and extensive work on that issue (click here for some of it). But it is important to break the linkage of such issues.
The crimes of one side do not justify crimes on the other side, and that holds true even if the scale or frequency is very different. The issue of Palestinian prisoners must not be linked to Shalit because whether he is freed or not, the issue remains the same. By the same token, whether those Palestinian prisoners are freed (or at least in many cases, tried) or not has no bearing on the need to free Shalit.
It is precisely that principle that is crucial for any hope, in terms of politics or diplomacy as well as human rights, to be realized. Israel and the Palestinians must do what is right, what is demanded by both law and by human decency, for its own sake. Of course, it is true that security concerns and concerns for the protection of people’s rights to land, life and dignity often make this much more difficult to accomplish than to say. But it should remain the goal and, at the least, the idea that one party’s crimes can be used to justify the other side disregarding the law or the norms of human rights must be categorically rejected. Continue reading