Not enough, Minister

June 28, 2010 by J-Wire Staff
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The Executive Council of Australian Jewry has criticised Foreign Minister Stephen Smith for not matching some of his overseas counterparts in condemning Hams for the kidnapping of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit…now entering his fifth year of captivity.

In a letter to the Minister, ECAJ president Robert Goot wrote:

ECAJ President Robert Goot

I refer to the statement concerning Gilad Shalit, issued by you on 25 June 2010, the fourth anniversary of his capture and detention by Hamas.   The ECAJ welcomes your announcement that “Australia joins other members of the international community in calling for his immediate release” and thanks the government for making that call.

The remainder of the announcement, however, was disconcertingly lacking in substance and tepid in its tone.  To say, as you did, that Gilad Shalit “has been held in captivity in the Gaza strip by Hamas”  is to gloss over the most heinous aspect of his captivity – the fact that he has been held incommunicado for four long years.

Gilad Shalit, as you would know, was abducted from Israeli soil by Hamas, after Israel had evacuated its troops and citizens from Gaza. His treatment by Hamas is in clear violation of the rules of customary international law which proscribe the taking or detaining of a hostage in order to compel a State to do or abstain from doing any act, and which require prisoners of war to be allowed contact with their families and access to the Red Cross.

Gilad Shalit’s captors even deny him letters from his family.  As a parent, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish and heartbreak that he, his parents and family continue to suffer.

You may be interested to know that at the time of your statement, your colleague, Franco Frattini, the Foreign Minister of Italy, is reported as stating “that the condition of Gilad’s captivity breached all international rules and showed the terrorist nature of Hamas”. Meanwhile, Rome’s City Council made Gilad Shalit an honorary citizen of the Eternal City.

Stephen Smith

I also draw your attention to the statement issued by the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch, an organization which could never be accused of being a partisan supporter of Israel.  It said that “Hamas authorities are violating the laws of war by refusing to allow Shalit to correspond with his family”, and concluded that Shalit’s prolonged incommunicado detention “may amount to torture”.  Unlike your own announcement, the statement by Human Rights Watch concluded:

“Regardless of Hamas’ grievances against Israel, there are no grounds to cut Shalit off completely from his family.”

The eloquent articulation of similar arguments in Parliament by both Mark Dreyfus MP and Christopher Pyne MP, strongly suggests that there is a bipartisan consensus in support of the relevant humanitarian principles and the way those principles apply in the case of Gilad Shalit.

There can be no justification at all for the ongoing inhumane treatment of Gilad Shalit or his continued captivity. His is a burning humanitarian issue which must be considered in its own right and divorced from the issues in contention between Israel and Hamas.

It is regrettable that your announcement omitted to make this distinction.  It is an omission that is especially troubling to Australian Jewry, in light of the general tenor and positive outcome of our recent discussions at the Lodge.

Whilst my community is grateful to the Government for calling for Gilad Shalit’s release, we cannot help feeling let down by the inexplicable failure of your announcement to make the clear statement of principle, and send the strong message of support, which the occasion required.

A spokesperson for Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told J-Wire: “The Minister will be replying to this letter”

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