NSW Parliament passes motion on Gilad Shalit

September 25, 2009 by J-Wire Staff
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Chris Hartcher, the Liberal member  for Terrigal in the NSW State Parliament,  has condemned Hamas for the treatment of Gilad Shilat, an Israeli soldier held captive by Hamas for more than three years. Read the text from yesterday’s parliamentary session below:

Gilad Shalit

Gilad Shalit

Mr CHRIS HARTCHER (Terrigal) [4.16 p. m.]: I move: That this House:

(1) notes with concern that Gilad Shalit has been held in isolated captivity by Hamas since 25 June 2006;

(2) condemns Hamas for its inhumane treatment of Gilad Shilat and calls upon it to immediately allow Red Cross access; and

(3) calls upon the Australian Government and all men and women of goodwill to work for the release of Gilad Shilat.

First, I thank the Leader of the House for his courtesy and assistance in making this debate possible, and for the spirit of bipartisanship that prevails in this Parliament on matters of a humanitarian nature. I acknowledge visitors in the public gallery this afternoon: Mr Vic Alhedeff from the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies; Chantal from the Australian Jewish News; Aviva Kogus, Simon and Shimirit Nothman, and Tamara Newman from the State Zionist Council of New South Wales; and Arsen Ostrovsky and Noel Hadjiimichael, who are committee members of Stand With Us.

The Middle East has had a sad story of conflict for more than 5,000 years. It is the homeland of three great religions, yet it still has not achieved peace. But the story this afternoon is not about the conflict in the Middle East; it is the story of one man and our search for humanity and for humane treatment, as all people of goodwill must have, to ensure that justice is given to that one man, just as justice must be given to every man. If we fail him, then we are failing all people because in each one of us there is a divine spark of humanity that must be recognised.

In the 1960s a Reuters correspondent in Beijing was held hostage for several years by the Chinese authorities, at the time of the cultural revolution. Reuters launched a worldwide campaign to ensure that people throughout the world were aware of his plight and reminded of his plight every year on his birthday and at Christmas, and to develop a worldwide consensus that his treatment as a political hostage was an outrage and that he must be released, as he was eventually.

That same story applies to Gilad Shalit. The story that has grown across the world is of this young Israeli soldier who was captured in 2006 and taken and used as a hostage and pawned. The story has become one of struggle to ensure that individuals throughout the world are not used as political pawns and denied their humanity, and all of us have a responsibility, not just the nation from which he comes, to secure his freedom. The appeal has gone worldwide. The Parliament in France has made Gilad Shalit an honorary citizen of France. Rome has made him an honorary citizen of Rome. Miami has made him an honorary citizen of Miami.

Parliaments and people of goodwill across the world have acknowledged his story and have sought at every level of society to engage their society in the struggle for his release. This Parliament does not pretend that Hamas or any other international organisation is going to immediately respond to its plea. But this Parliament has the opportunity on behalf of the people of New South Wales, whose representative body it is, to express the concern, wish and will of its people and to join the chorus throughout the world pleading for the humane treatment of this young man.

Gilad Shalit, whom we believe still to be alive, has been held in underground captivity for the past three years and denied access to the Red Cross and to any form of contact with the outside world. He has been treated throughout in the most callous and callow way. The Pope, the Holy Father, the head of the Catholic Church—of which I am proud to be a member—has appealed for his release. The European Union and international agencies such as the Red Cross, Amnesty International and everybody concerned with humanity throughout our international society have appealed for his release. Yet not only has that release been denied but he is also being denied the most basic human rights—that is, the right of access to the Red Cross, the fundamental rights granted by international convention and by treaty.

As has been reported, since 2006 the International Committee of the Red Cross has repeatedly asked Hamas to allow visits by the ICRC to ascertain the conditions of detention and treatment of Gilad Shalit, but those requests have always been refused. The ICRC has stated that under international humanitarian law Gilad Shalit is entitled to regular and unconditional contacts with his family. On 25 June 2007, the first anniversary of his being taken hostage, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem issued a statement which said: … international humanitarian law absolutely prohibits taking and holding a person by force in order to compel the enemy to meet certain demands, while threatening to harm or kill the person if the demands are not met … Thus holding Gilad Shalit as a hostage to demands is a war crime. B’Tselem also notes that denying access to ICRC visitations is itself a violation of international law. There have been three listed violations of the Third Geneva Convention in relation to his treatment—that is, Article 13, the denial of the right to humane treatment; Article 23, the denial of the right to have knowledge of his location; and Article 126, the denial of the right to unfettered access to the Red Cross. It is a form of torture holding a young man not just in jail but also in isolation in jail in daily fear of his life to secure a political end. It is as bad as any horror movie shown on late night television.

In denying Gilad Shalit the fundamental rights of a human being, Hamas denies itself moral legitimacy to make any argument on humanitarian grounds for

Chris Hartcher

Chris Hartcher

itself or the people whom it claims to represent. If we seek humanitarian treatment for ourselves we must afford humanitarian treatment to others. There is no distinction because all of us share that common humanity. I have said before how the worldwide campaign has been launched and how organisations have taken part in attempting to achieve this international result. Only last month on 28 August Gilad celebrated his twenty-third birthday, but he was denied any contact on his birthday. In order to raise awareness of his story, and to get support for his immediate release, groups across the world organised a “Tweet4Shalit” from midnight on 26 August until 27 August. On that date Twitter recorded the second highest number of Twitter calls ever recorded on that site.

This is not a simple story of one man; it is a story of humanity. This story is going across the world and the people of New South Wales are being invited to add their voices to that call. Once again, I thank the Government for providing this opportunity for the House to debate this matter. I acknowledge the assistance I have received in this matter from the shadow Minister for Citizenship, the member for Lane Cove, and from my Legislative Council colleague Michael Gallacher. He has given notice of a similar motion in the Legislative Council and it will be debated soon.

I conclude by simply praying that the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob, who are acknowledged by all three great religions—Judaism, Islam and Christianity—will grant peace to Gilad; that He will grant His blessings upon Gilad; that responding to the prayers of all men and women of goodwill throughout the world, the Australian Government will join its voice for Gilad’s release; and that Gilad Shalit will walk once more as a free man.

Mr JOHN AQUILINA (Riverstone—Parliamentary Secretary) [4.26 p. m.]: On behalf of the Government I support the motion moved by the member for Terrigal. I also echo sentiments that have been raised by so many millions of people around the world in calling for the release of Gilad Shalit or, at the very least, as this motion says, to allow the immediate access by the Red Cross to Gilad Shalit to ensure his welfare and wellbeing. We all know of the enormous problems in the Middle East for several thousands of years. There is a recurring tale of daily tragedy in the Middle East. We need to bring this enormous conflict in to some perspective and realise that at the end of every day the people are the ones who suffer and grieve.

Gilad Shalit, who was born on 28 August 1986, was a mere lad of 19 years when he was captured on 25 June 2006. He was a soldier who had been conscripted like so many others into the Israeli forces because of the necessities and realities of life there. He volunteered to go into a combat unit, following his elder brother, despite having a low medical profile in relation to his appropriateness for combat duty. It was his choice and what he wanted to do. Gilad Shalit was not serving in a foreign land but inside his own land of Israel. On 25 June 2006 Corporal Gilad Shalit—he was later promoted to staff sergeant—was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists within Israel territory near the Kerem Shalom border.

It was part of an unprovoked and well-planned attack involving seven terrorists armed with explosive charges, anti-tank missiles, light arms and more, and which made use of a tunnel under the Israel-Gaza border. During the course of the attack an Israeli defence force soldier, Staff Sergeant Pavel Slutzker, and an officer, Lieutenant Hanan Barak, were killed, while five others were wounded.

On 25 June 2009, three years later, Shalit was still in captivity and remains in captivity to this day. His captivity continues to be in total contravention of the international law, which clearly states that it is an offence when a person: … seizes or detains and threatens to kill, to injure or to continue to detain another person in order to compel a third party, namely a State, an international intergovernmental organisation, a natural or juridical person, or a group of persons, to do or abstain from doing any act as an explicit or implicit condition for the release of the hostage commits the offence of taking of hostage …

In addition, Hamas continues to refuse Red Cross access to Staff Sergeant Shalit. Even his parents have no access to him. None of the people who love him have access to him and the many thousands of letters that have been written to him by people from all over the world have not been delivered to him. He remains totally cut off, unaware of what is happening in the outside world, and the Red Cross is totally unaware of his state and his condition. We presume he is still alive. That is, again, a presumption. Negotiations continue, and this shy boy—because it is well known that he is a shy boy—has now been the pawn in international diplomatic relations for the past three years or more.

The International Committee of the Red Cross [ICRC] is extremely concerned about the condition of Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit. Some time ago it indicated that its attempts at that stage to visit him and to establish contact between him and his family had been unsuccessful. Pierre Wettach, the head of delegation for Israel and the occupied territories, went on at some length to explain the situation in relation to Gilad Shalit. He stated: First let me express once again our deep sympathy with Gilad Shalit’s family. Because ICRC delegates around the world are in regular contact with families in similar situations waiting for news of their loved ones, we are acutely aware of the distress and anger they feel.

Since Gilad Shalit was captured … on 25 June 2006, we have been working hard to obtain access to him. We have repeatedly reminded those holding him of their legal obligations, calling on them both publicly and through our direct contacts to treat him humanely.

That is all that we are asking here, and what we are calling upon Hamas to do. We are also invoking the Australian Government and all men and women of goodwill to work for the release of Gilad Shalit and for Hamas to allow access by the Red Cross to Gilad Shalit so as to be able to look after his welfare and wellbeing. Mr Wettach went on to say: The ICRC has repeatedly asked to be allowed to visit Gilad Shalit and to convey family messages to him. In early November [2008] the ICRC requested that Hamas forward to him thousands of letters and greeting cards from various organisations, individuals and schoolchildren. Unfortunately, all these requests have been refused.

Although our attempts have so far been unsuccessful, we will continue to do everything we can to obtain information on Gilad Shalit’s condition, to gain direct access to him, and to establish contact between him and his family. We would like to meet him in private to make an independent assessment of the conditions he is held in and of his state of health.

It is a sad story indeed when one so young has the misfortune to be caught up in circumstances far beyond his control and is used as a pawn in this way. The negotiations continue, the wrangling continues, the bloodshed continues, and poor Gilad Shalit remains there as a symbol of the futility of all that happens in relation to such conflicts.

We in this House join together with one voice in calling for the Hamas to show some empathy, to show some concern, to allow the Red Cross at least to have access to this shy young man, so depressed, whose will is so broken, who has been so long away from the rest of the world, to at least look after his personal condition, to at least ensure that his health is well, to leave aside other considerations regarding international negotiations in relation to the conflict that has defied a solution now for so many thousands of years and, in the interests of humanity, in the interests of goodwill, to at least show concern and consideration for this man and his family—for his parents in particular, and his brother and sister—and for all of those who see him now as a symbol of the suffering of so many thousands of people in that part of the world. He should be released. Indeed he should be released without condition. He has done no-one any harm. At the very least we should see to it, speaking with a united world voice, that his human condition is looked after and his personal welfare is safeguarded. This is an important motion. It is not a motion about international conflict or world international affairs; it is a motion which every one of us, as members of Parliament, as members of a concerned community, have a responsibility to support, because it is about the welfare of a fellow human being.

Mr ANTHONY ROBERTS (Lane Cove) [4.37 p. m.]: Today I stand proudly as a free citizen of this world to speak in favour of this motion and take the opportunity, on behalf of Mr Chris Hartcher, myself and those present, to pay tribute to the members of the Jewish community who have joined us here today. I also speak as someone who has served overseas in a peacekeeping role with the Australian Army.

Gilad Shilat, an Israeli soldier, was kidnapped by Hamas on 25 June 2006. At that time he was 19 years of age. In the gallery today there are many people who were born in or around 1986 and are close to 19 years of age. As of today Gilad Shilat has been in captivity for 1,187 days—1,187 days with no contact with the outside world, 1,187 days without hearing from his family and friends, 1,187 days without medical aid, 1,187 days without access to the Red Cross—enough to spend four birthdays in captivity. On 25 June 2006 Corporal Gilad Shalit, who has since been promoted to Staff Sergeant, was kidnapped by Hamas terrorists within Israeli territory near the Kerem Shalom crossing. The kidnapping was part of an unprovoked attack involving seven terrorists armed with explosive charges, light arms and anti-tank missiles, which made use of a tunnel under the Israel-Gaza border. During the attack two Israeli soldiers lost their lives—Staff Sergeant Pavel Slutzker and Lieutenant Hanan Barak—and five were wounded.

The Shalit family, from a village in the green hills of the Galilee, live in hope. Since his kidnapping there have been numerous occasions when a deal for his release seemed imminent; however, as his father Noam Shalit has said, “Every time, disappointment is an abyss we fall into.” Gilad’s mother, who has not spoken to the press, has constantly asked Gilad’s father to “bring Gilad back to me”, and that is a battle that the family fights daily. I place on record the last known communication believed to have been written by Gilad, in June 2008, and I quote:

Dear Mother and Father and my dear family,

I miss you very much. Two long and hard years have passed for me since I parted from you and was forced to begin living in captivity.

I continue to suffer from health and psychological difficulties and much depression, which is characteristic to this type of life. As in my former letters, I very much hope that your health and mental condition has not deteriorated since you started living without me.

I still keep thinking and dreaming about the day I will be freed and meet you again. And I am still hopeful that this day is close—but I know that this does not depend on either me or you.

I appeal to the government not to neglect the negotiations for my release by putting their efforts into obtaining the release of the soldiers in Lebanon.

Missing you, Gilad June 2008

That was in June 2008. Since 2006 the Red Cross has repeatedly asked Hamas to allow it to make visits to ascertain Gilad’s conditions of detention and treatment but those requests have been continually refused. Under international humanitarian law Gilad is entitled to regular and unconditional contacts with his family. On 25 June 2007, the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem issued a statement saying:… international humanitarian law absolutely prohibits taking and holding a person by force in order to compel the enemy to meet certain demands, while threatening to harm or kill the person if the demands are not met.

Thus, by international law, holding Gilad Shalit as a hostage to their demands is in effect a war crime. Human Rights Watch has also stated that Hamas authorities are obligated by the laws of war to allow Shalit to correspond with his family, and noted that three letters and a voice recording cannot be counted as regular correspondence.

As I look around the gallery once again at the young people from northern New South Wales who have the freedoms this young man does not have, freedoms that have been denied to him for four birthdays and, as of today, for 1,187 days, I call on all members to condemn Hamas for their inhumane treatment of Gilad Shalit and to immediately allow Red Cross access. Together with Barry O’Farrell, Chris Hartcher and the Coalition I call on the Australian Government and all people of goodwill to work for the release of Gilad Shalit. Gilad is a citizen of the world. Gilad is my brother. To deprive him of his freedom is to deny freedom to all of us. I commend the motion to the House.

Mr CHRIS HARTCHER (Terrigal) [4.42 p. m.]: I thank the member for Riverstone and the member for Lane Cove for their contributions to this debate. As the member for Riverstone said, this is an important motion and one that relates to the human condition. Gilad is a symbol of the human condition.

This is not a debate about resolving tensions in the Middle East, although obviously the release of Gilad would resolve a lot of tensions. This is not a debate about solving the problems of the Middle East, which have remained, sadly, intractable for so long. This is a debate about our humanity as expressed in the fate of one man. As the member for Lane Cove said, 1,187 days have passed since this young man was taken; 1,187 days in which he has been in daily fear; 1,187 days in which he has been subjected to darkness, poor conditions and, above all, to uncertainty, not knowing, lack of contact, and denial of human relationships; 1,187 days that have forever changed his life and, as he reflects in his correspondence, impacted not just on his physical wellbeing but also on his mental wellbeing; 1,187 days in which the world could have done something about this problem.

We have an opportunity in New South Wales, however small, to express concern to our Government. Australia has an opportunity, however small Australia may be on the world stage, to express its concern internationally so that the whole of international concern can come together to form a chorus that will issue a demand, batter down the door and lead to International Red Cross access to Gilad and, finally, to his release. We do not pretend that we can change the world, but the world will never change unless every man and woman of goodwill works together to change it. This is our opportunity.

This Parliament does not often debate matters related to foreign affairs. It has a proud history of looking after the affairs of the State of New South Wales. But there are from time to time some matters that simply cry out for justice. There is a famous story in the Book of Genesis when Cain slew Abel and God cried out, “The voice of your brother cried out to me for justice.” The voice of our brother—as the member for Lane Cove so eloquently put it, each of us is the brother of Gilad, because each of us shares his humanity—cries out for justice, not just for himself but for every person who is used as a pawn for political purposes. This may be the world’s best-known example, but there are tens of thousands of examples. Gilad has become, as the member for Riverstone said, the symbol of all those who are misused and abused, whose freedom is destroyed, and who are caught up in the vortex because of the actions of people who have no empathy for others but see human beings as pawns to be played on a chessboard. This is a game that we cannot and never will play; this is a game that we must ensure the international community never plays. These things must never be allowed to happen.

This is our opportunity to join all men and women of goodwill throughout the world to ask for Gilad to be given fair treatment; to ask Hamas to grant Red Cross access; to ask the Australian Government to continue to press and raise this issue; to support the Israeli Government in continuing to press and raise this issue; to support the International Red Cross in its constant pleas to raise this issue; and to make sure that this little candle does not go out, but that it burns brighter every day. We must hammer at the doors and make sure that there is not only freedom but also humanity for Gilad Shalit.

Once again I thank all those who have assisted. I acknowledge once again the great support given by the Hon. Michael Gallacher in the Legislative Council. I thank the Australian Government for the efforts it has made so far. I thank the International Red Cross. I invite all young people who are involved in Twitter to join the Twitter campaign and the Facebook campaign and use every means at our disposal to bring world attention to this matter and make sure that 1,187 days draw to a close and Gilad Shalit walks free.

Question—That the motion be agreed to—put and resolved in the affirmative.

Motion agreed to.

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