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.
The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem today (25.06.09) repeats its demand that Hamas release Gilad Shalit immediately. The circumstances of Shalit’s capture three years ago and the behavior of his captors clearly indicate that he is legally a hostage. Hostage taking is absolutely prohibited under international humanitarian law, and is defined as a grave breach of the Geneva Convention.
The leadership of Hamas is obligated to release Shalit immediately and unconditionally. Until he is released, those holding him must grant him humane treatment, allow him to be in contact with his family and allow representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross to visit him.
The denial of Shalit’s right to these visits constitutes a blatant violation of international law, and casts doubt over claims that Shalit’s wellbeing has been maintained.