Hen Mazzig

Where is the Red Cross hiding?

The evidence shows that it is not the impartial humanitarian agency it claims to be


IDF Lt. (reserves) Hen Mazzig on a field tour with the head of the ICRC representative in Jerusalem, 2010

June 18, 2024 11:39

When the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was formed in February 1863, the Geneva-based humanitarian group listed as its primary objective: “To ensure protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict and strife.” In the 160-plus years since, the organisation has often succeeded in this mission.

In 1997, the ICRC treated 72 hostages being held at the Japanese Ambassador’s home in Peru for nearly 80 days, eventually securing their release. One year prior, aid workers provided care to 26 members of a World Wildlife Fund research mission after they were captured in the Mapenduma region of Indonesia. All but two hostages survived.

In 2009, the ICRC even proved its ability to reach hostages with unknown whereabouts when it used its meticulous network of high-ranking terrorist contacts to deliver a letter to author David Rohde, one of three kidnapped by the Taliban. Not to mention the countless other conflicts over the past century and a half during which the organisation has provided aid to hostages and prisoners of war.

When it comes to Jews and Israelis, however, the supposed “impartial” humanitarian agency has proved time and time again to be an abject failure. This fact came to light again when, following eight months of war, we received a ray of hope as four hostages were returned home following a daring rescue mission by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The military triumph, which circumvented the ICRC’s purview, dredged up memories of how the organisation collaborated with the Nazis by covering up their crimes against humanity during the Holocaust. Its then director of archives George Willemin did acknowledge the organisation’s “moral failure” in 1997 at a ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

Yet here we are, 27 years past this overdue admission and nearly 80 years after the genocide of Jews in Europe, and the ICRC is failing Israel and the international Jewish community once again.

It’s been over eight months since Hamas’ deadly attacks in southern Israel and the capture of over 200 innocent civilians. And still the international aid group has yet to fulfil its most basic tenet, to check on and provide care for the hostages held by Hamas.

I witnessed this double standard play out during my military service with the IDF. As a humanitarian officer stationed in the West Bank and Gaza, I helped coordinate visits by ICRC workers with members of Hamas and their families to ensure they received care. Meanwhile, innocent Israeli civilians with mental and physical health issues went ignored while their families were silenced. Ilan Mengistu, whose brother Avera has been held hostage by Hamas for almost a decade, attested to this very fact last year saying that while the family has met with top ICRC officials on numerous occasions, they’ve had little success in reaching him.

During the current conflict, the ICRC has also proved to be incapable of delivering medications promised to the hostages. This failure even spurred Israeli officials to bypass the group with help from Qatar to arrange a shipment into Gaza of medicines for dozens of Israeli hostages with chronic illnesses.

Compounding the issue, the ICRC recently scolded the families of hostages for their advocacy on behalf of their loved ones, urging them to consider the Palestinians’ plight. While we can all have compassion for innocents on both sides of the conflict, Israeli hostages have been — and continue to be — held by civilians in their homes in the Nuseirat refugee camp and throughout Gaza. Considering the circumstances, the plight of those in captivity should be the premier priority.

The ICRC has rebuffed criticisms of its attention to Israeli hostages, claiming it needs a ceasefire in order to do its job. But this simply doesn’t add up. The absence of a ceasefire hasn’t stopped it from intervening on behalf of hostages in past active armed conflicts. The organisation also acknowledges that taking hostages violates international law, yet has not made any serious demands of Hamas nor the United Nations to gain access to them. Meanwhile, Hamas continues to refuse any ceasefire deal.

The ICRC is not the “impartial” humanitarian agency it claims to be. From looking the other way during the Holocaust to prioritising the plight of terrorists to, infamously, refusing to accept Magen David Adom (the Israeli-Jewish version of the Red Cross) as a member for 58 years while accepting the Red Crescent Muslim version, the group has a long track record of violating neutrality and rubber-stamping anti-Jewish racism.

An organisation whose primary purpose is to care for all victims of war has suddenly become incapable of doing so when those victims are Israeli. While the hostages should never have been abducted in the first place, they deserve better. The world must demand that they receive it.

Hen Mazzig is an Israeli author, former IDF Humanitarian Officer and a Senior Fellow at The Tel Aviv Institute,

June 18, 2024 11:39

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