Doubts Cast in Gilad Shalit/Palestinian Prisoner Swap

Today, we woke up to find the exchange of Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, and 477 Palestinian prisoners.

As news services around the world covering the exchange highlight Gilad Shalit’s ordeal of being held for five years in virtual incommunicado detention and the story of the Palestinian prisoners being released – some having been held for decades – one thing is glaringly obvious – this whole episode highlights the need for the humane treatment of all detainees – whether Palestinian or Israeli.


Gilad Shalit Marks Five Years Held In Secret By Hamas

Gilad Shalit is an Israeli soldier held by the Hamas in Gaza as a bargaining chip to pressure Israel for the release of some of the thousands of Palestinians detained in Israel. © Private

Corporal Gilad Shalit was only 19 years old when he was captured on June 25th 2006 by armed Palestinian groups, including Hamas’s military wing.

He is 24 years old now.  On June 25th, it will be over five years since Aviva and Noam Shalit, Gilad’s parents, have been able to touch their son or speak to him directly – even by mail.  It has been nearly two years since they’ve even seen him on video or received any other proof of life.

“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, July 6, 2009)


Israel Falling Short on the Gaza Blockade

The international community has been expected Israel to take steps to loosen the Gaza blockade ever since an attack on a flotilla resulted in the death of nine protestors.

The Israel response came today, and it wasn’t impressive.

More than half of Gaza's population are children.

Amnesty International believes the Gaza blockade imposes a collective punishment on 1.4 million Palestinians in clear violation of international law.  It must be completely lifted without delay.

The Israeli proposal fell far short of that.

“Any step that will help reduce the dire humanitarian crisis in Gaza is to be welcomed, but Israel must now comply with its obligations as the occupying power under international law and immediately lift the blockade,” said Malcolm Smart, Amnesty International’s director for the Middle East and North Africa.

“Just as important as allowing goods into Gaza is allowing exports to leave Gaza, yet there is no mention of this in today’s announcement. Banning the vast majority of exports, raw materials and the movement of people has destroyed the economy of Gaza, and pushed its population into unemployment, poverty and dependency on aid agencies for survival.  These problems will not be solved while the blockade continues.”

The Israel announcement offered few details but stated that it promised to “liberalize the system by which civilian goods enter Gaza” and to expand entrance of construction materials for civilian use.

As always, the Israelis cited an ever-changing number of excuses to justify this violation of international law.  One cited today was the continued holding of captured Israeli solider Gilad Shalit, and indeed the Israelis are right to insist on Shalit’s safe return.  AI has repeatedly pressed Hamas authorities in Gaza to free him.

And Amnesty International has strongly condemned the firing of indiscriminate weapons by Palestinian armed groups into southern Israel as a violation of international law.  But the Israeli blockade, which limits goods, the movement of people, threatens appropriate medical treatment of the sick and injured and virtually banning exports, target the civilian population as a whole not the armed groups in particular.

“Any restrictions imposed on the movement of people and goods into or out of Gaza must be proportionate and non-discriminatory,” Smart said.

The full Amnesty statement can be found here. A statement earlier this week criticizing shortcomings in Israel panel that will investigate the flotilla attack can be found here.

Gilad Shalit is not a 'Bargaining Chip'

Amnesty International was born out of the injustice of the forgotten prisoner.  In 1960, a British lawyer, Peter Benenson, read a story about the imprisonment of two Portuguese students, who had raised their wine glasses in a toast to freedom, but had been overheard and imprisoned.  Benenson wrote an article, ‘The Forgotten Prisoner’ for The Observer which started the worldwide movement, Amnesty International, which works on behalf of prisoners and in support of basic human rights for all.

Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit is completing his fourth year of isolated captivity June 25th, 2010.

Although Hamas has asserted that Gilad is alive and being well treated, the only communications that Gilad has had with the outside world, and indeed the only real proof of life that have been put forward, are a videotape and letter written by him in 2007, a year after he was captured, and another videotape passed on to the Israeli government in October 2009.

Amnesty International members have been campaigning on behalf of Gilad Shalit since 2006 and to also end the misuse of administrative detention of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories by Israel and for family visits.  Amnesty has condemned the use of prisoners as political bargaining chips as a violation of international law by both Israel and Hamas, the de facto administration in the Gaza Strip, noting both Israel’s detention of Palestinian parliamentarians as well as the detention of Gilad Shalit.

As Gilad’s captivity closes in on the fifth year of secret imprisonment, Amnesty International urges Hamas to abide by its international obligations.  Gilad should be afforded his rights to regular visitation by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), regular communication with his family and to be treated humanely.    He should also not be used as a ‘bargaining chip’.

Don’t let Gilad become a ‘forgotten prisoner’.  Join Amnesty in its call for Gilad to be treated humanely by taking action online now.

Gilad Shalit video released in exchange for 20 Palestinian prisoners

Hamas, the de facto administration in the Gaza Strip, released a video of 23 year old Gilad Shalit.  Gilad, an Israeli soldier, was seized by armed Palestinian groups over three years ago in June 2006 in a cross ‘border’ raid.  The video is significant as armed Palestinian groups have been detaining him incommunicado except for a couple of letters and an audio tape released over two years ago. Gilad has been denied communication with not only his family, but also the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which contravenes international law. Since his capture, Amnesty International has consistently called for his releaseand for the ICRC to have access to him.  AI has done this using both public actions and behind the scenes dialogue.

Negotiations for Gilad Shalit’s release have intensified under the current government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahuand Gilad’s family as well as the nation has been increasingly concerned about his condition and treatment.  The following video, although in Hebrew, shows a pale, but otherwise healthy looking Gilad Shalit holding a paper from September 14th.

In exchange for the video, which Israel requested as ‘proof of life’, Israel released 19 Palestinian women prisoners; another female prisoner is due to be released sometime next week.  Israel holds several thousand Palestinians, including hundreds of children, in Israeli prisons against international law.  Hundreds of detainees are also held without charge or trial under administrative detention orders which can be repeatedly renewed and often includes children.  Currently, one child is held under administrative detention, Hamdi Al-Ta’mari.  Amnesty International is working on his case.  More information available at

Others have been convicted in unfair trials in military courts.  It is a major concern that prisoners are held in Israeli prisons instead of in the occupied Palestinian territories which is against international law.  Since detainees are held within Israel proper, it is very difficult for families to visit minors in detention or other family members.

This video produced by B’tselem explains how the imprisonment of Palestinians inside Israel proper affects families, including the children:

This exchange, although bringing temporary relief to the Shalit family and joy to the families of the 20 detained female prisoners just highlights the concern Amnesty International outlined in the document ‘Detainees used as bargaining chips by both sides in Israel/Gaza conflict’ published in March 2009.  Gilad Shalit, it is believed was taken as leverage in future negotiations with Israeli authorities and many believe Palestinians are regularly taken by Israeli forces for many reasons other than security and one of them is for leverage as well.  Hostage taking, that is threatening to harm or continue to detain a detained person in order to compel a third party to do or abstain from doing something as a condition of their release is expressly prohibited under international law.  Such practice threatens the fundamental right to life, personal integrity and liberty and is expressly prohibited by international humanitarian law.  Under no circumstances is the taking of hostages justifiable.

Negotiations continue with Israel wanting Gilad Shalit released immediately and the Palestinians asking for at least 1,000 Palestinian prisoners to be released and/or an end to the punishing blockade of the strip.