Gilad Shalit

A year ago, I spoke from the steps of the Melbourne GPO to a rally of 300 people. The rally was called to mark the first anniversary of the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, and to give public voice to calls for his release as well as the release of two other Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who are still being held by Hezbollah after being kidnapped on 12 July 2006 from near the Lebanese border. I am deeply saddened that today, one year later, I am speaking again on this anniversary. Yesterday marked two years since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped near Gaza as part of an attack on Israel for which Hamas’s military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, claimed responsibility. The raid also resulted in the deaths of two of Gilad Shalit’s fellow defence force members. Since that time, Gilad Shalit has been held by Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, with no contact with the outside world.

A year ago, I spoke from the steps of the Melbourne GPO to a rally of 300 people. The rally was called to mark the first anniversary of the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, and to give public voice to calls for his release as well as the release of two other Israeli soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, who are still being held by Hezbollah after being kidnapped on 12 July 2006 from near the Lebanese border. I am deeply saddened that today, one year later, I am speaking again on this anniversary. Yesterday marked two years since Gilad Shalit was kidnapped near Gaza as part of an attack on Israel for which Hamas’s military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, claimed responsibility. The raid also resulted in the deaths of two of Gilad Shalit’s fellow defence force members. Since that time, Gilad Shalit has been held by Izz al-Din al-Qassam, the military wing of Hamas, with no contact with the outside world.

These kidnappings are an impediment to lasting peace in the region. They are a crime against the laws of war and they are a personal tragedy for these young men and their families. The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit has done nothing to further the prospects of peace in the Middle East. It has provided another roadblock on the path to peace. It has increased the level of violence and deepened the suffering of Israelis and Palestinians. It has not advanced the cause of the Palestinian people, once again, who were let down by the actions of those claiming their leadership. We should make no mistake about what these actions say about the enemies that seek to destroy Israel.

The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev were war crimes. They were against the laws of war and outside the Geneva conventions. They were against any accepted standard of human rights. Their continued detention is similarly illegal. The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit was conducted, as I said, by the military wing of Hamas. Hamas has played a central role in refusing to release a hostage who is being held for political purposes. Hamas has brazenly used Gilad Shalit’s captivity to try to secure a swap with hundreds of terrorists currently imprisoned in Israel.

The taking of these three Israeli soldiers is just as much a crime as was the taking of BBC journalist Alan Johnson, whose safe release we should be thankful for. It is the same crime. There is no valid distinction in the three Israelis being serving soldiers and Alan Johnson a journalist. If any comparison is to be made, the kidnapping of the three soldiers is worse because the terrorists crossed borders to commit their crimes. There were worldwide protests from several countries in response to the BBC journalist’s kidnapping. I would hope to hear those same countries protesting just as loudly about the continued detention of the three Israelis. The international community must, in no uncertain terms, continue to condemn Hamas for its role in the abduction and holding of Corporal Shalit. The whole international community should call on Hamas to renounce violence, to recognise Israel and to respect commitments made by the Palestinian leadership to progress the peace process.

At a human level, the ordeal that Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev have faced is unimaginable. The pain that their families have experienced, the agony on a daily basis, is something that no parent and no family should ever have to experience. Since the kidnapping, the family of Gilad Shalit has received only a recorded message in June 2007, a letter in February 2008 and a letter that was faxed to former President Jimmy Carter, which was subsequently passed on to Gilad Shalit’s family.

We should welcome Israeli Prime Minister Olmert’s meeting with Egyptian President Mubarak on 24 June where they discussed efforts to negotiate the release of Corporal Shalit. The international community must do all it can to secure the immediate and unconditional release of Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev. We should utterly condemn the taking of hostages for political purposes.