House of Representatives Speech- Gilad Shalit

I again rise in this House to mark another anniversary of the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier. Two years ago I spoke from the steps of the Melbourne GPO to a rally of 300 people called to mark the first anniversary. Last year I spoke in this House calling for his release on the second anniversary of his kidnapping. Next Thursday, 26 June 2009, will mark the third anniversary.

I again rise in this House to mark another anniversary of the kidnapping of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier. Two years ago I spoke from the steps of the Melbourne GPO to a rally of 300 people called to mark the first anniversary. Last year I spoke in this House calling for his release on the second anniversary of his kidnapping. Next Thursday, 26 June 2009, will mark the third anniversary.

Gilad Shalit was 19 when he was taken by Hamas’s military wing, Izz al-Din al-Qassam, in an illegal cross-border raid. Two of his fellow defence force members were killed in the raid. Shalit is now 22. By now, he should have completed his army service and commenced his tertiary studies. Instead, he has been held for three years with no contact with the outside world. His family are waiting. They have no information on the conditions of his captivity or the state of his health. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been continuously denied access to Shalit. His father, Noam Shalit, was recently asked how his family cope. His response was: ‘We don’t. You cannot get used to this situation. It’s a continuous nightmare.’

In contravention of international law, Hamas continue to use Shalit as a hostage and as a bargaining chip. They have sought to secure the release of 450 terrorists being held in Israeli prisons. Among those that Israel refused to release were Hassan Salama, the former head of Hamas’s Jerusalem branch who is serving 49 life sentences for two suicide bombings in 1996. They include Abdullah Barghouti, the senior Hamas bomb maker currently serving 67 life sentences. He was convicted in 2003 for planning terror attacks in which 66 civilians were murdered.

We should not be surprised by this behaviour. Hamas is not a regime given legitimacy by an election. This is a regime that murdered its political opponents in a brutal coup. This is a regime that murders trade unionists and other independent activists. Let us be very clear. The kidnapping of Gilad Shalit was a crime against the laws of war. His continued detention is a breach of international law.

Elena Bonner, the widow of Nobel Peace Prize recipient and activist Andrei Sakharov and a forceful and tireless human rights advocate in her own right, gave a recent speech to the Freedom Forum in Oslo in which she directed her questions to her fellow human rights advocates:

Why doesn’t the fate of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit trouble you in the same way as the fate of the Guantamano prisoners?

But during the two years Shalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The Conventions say clearly that hostage taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners.

I hope that in 12 months I will not be rising again to call for the release of Gilad Shalit.