Shalit must be regarded as a prisoner of war

Gilad is an innocent soldier who needs a visit from the International Red Cross

By Marian Lebor, March 26, 2009

It was very sad and frustrating to watch Gilad Shalit’s parents packing up their protest tent last Saturday night.

Although Noam and Aviva Shalit did not allow themselves to be too optimistic, a sense of expectation had built up that a breakthrough would be achieved by Saturday’s 1,000-day mark, which should have coincided with the end of Ehud Olmert’s premiership.

Now that his tenure has been extended for another two weeks while Binaymin Netanyahu forms his coalition, there is a feeling once again of “let’s wait and see if a miracle happens” and Gilad Shalit is released during Olmert’s extra final few days as Prime Minister.

It goes without saying that Shalit’s safe return home is the ultimate goal, but it is time right now to adopt an interim objective: he must be declared a prisoner of war and be given all the rights that this status confers under the Geneva Conventions, which include being visited by the International Red Cross.

If we look at Shalit’s case from Hamas’s vantage point, we see that he indeed has to be a prisoner of war. Hamas, by its own definition, is the elected government in Gaza and it seeks international recognition as such. Hamas crossed the border into Israel and captured a conscripted Israeli soldier. Applying this logic, Shalit is not a kidnapped civilian being held by a group of terrorists; he is a prisoner of war being held by the ruling body in Gaza.

I am not arguing here for Israel to treat Palestinian prisoners in the same manner as Gilad Shalit is being treated, as some have urged. Rather, I am asking that Shalit be treated in the same manner as even arch Palestinian terrorists are treated in Israel. These prisoners are convicted mass murderers yet they can all be accounted for and they have contact with the outside world via newspapers and TV. They can all receive a visit from the IRC to verify their state of health.

What is Gilad Shalit’s crime? By donning the IDF uniform he was simply obeying the law of the land, not making a political statement. He is just an ordinary, young, shy boy who had recently started his national service. As such, he should be protected by international aid agencies.

There is a precedent for the involvement of the IRC with Israeli prisoners of war. On September 11 1969, a fighter plane flown by Captain Giora Rom was downed over Egypt. Rom bailed out, was wounded and then taken captive. He was returned to Israel three months later. During his captivity, he was visited by the IRC. In a recent radio interview, Rom said he thought that his life was over until this visit, which gave him reason to hope and to live, and to expect that one day he would be released.

Gilad Shalit has had no such moral support. He remains in captivity, all alone. Hamas bargains with his life and denies him his most basic human right.

“It’s been almost a year since we got a real sign of life from Gilad. We waited for a response to the letter we sent him through French mediation, and despite the promise that we’d get a reply, we have yet to get anything,” Tzvi Shalit, Gilad’s grandfather, said last week.

We need to have tangible evidence that Gilad Shalit is alive now, ahead of any prisoner exchange.

Worldwide concern for human rights in Gaza must include upholding those of Gilad Shalit. No international aid should be allowed into Gaza until he is visited by the IRC

Readers wishing to join the campaign to pressure the International Red Cross to establish Gilad Shalit’s state of health and then to ensure that he is treated as a prisoner of war and granted basic human rights can contact me at

Marian Lebor is a freelance writer, editor and filmmaker who has lived in Israel since 1994. She blogs at

Last updated: 12:45pm, March 26 2009