Sunday, July 4, 2010

Not Happy, Steve!

There's just no pleasing some people.

The Australian Jewish News goes into campaign mode, urging its readers to call on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon to "demand [the] immediate release" of Israeli "hostage" Gilad Shalit.

Australia's soft touch Foreign Minister Stephen Smith duly obliges with:

"This week marks the fourth anniversary of the kidnapping of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was captured in a cross-border raid into Israel by the armed wing of Hamas and has been held in captivity in the Gaza Strip by Hamas since that time. Australia joins other members of the international community in calling for his immediate release. Australia firmly believes that ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is not in the interest of either party, the Middle East region or the international community. Australia has consistently made clear our view that a long-term solution must be a just and enduring peace in the Middle East, where both Israelis and Palestinians live in peace in their own states. In support of the peace process, Australia has substantially increased humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian people and is contributing to the development of institutions necessary for statehood. Australia recently welcomed the Israeli Government's announcement of a significant easing of restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza, which should ease the humanitarian situation and help ensure Israel's security." (Last word for Gilad,, 25/6/10)

But, for at least one of the usual suspects, it's a case of Not happy, Steve!

"I refer to the statement concerning Gilad Shalit, issued by you on 25 June 2010, the fourth anniversary of his capture and detention by Hamas. The Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) welcomes your announcement that 'Australia joins other members of the international community in calling for his immediate release' and thanks the government for making that call. The remainder of the announcement, however, was disconcertingly lacking in substance and tepid in its tone. To say, as you did, that Gilad Shalit 'has been held in captivity in the Gaza strip by Hamas' is to gloss over the most heinous aspect of his captivity - the fact that he has been held incommunicado for 4 long years. Gilad Shalit, as you would know, was abducted from Israeli soil by Hamas, after Israel had evacuated its troops and citizens from Gaza. His treatment by Hamas is in clear violation of the rules of customary international law which proscribe the taking or detaining of a hostage in order to compel a State to do or abstain from doing any act, and which require prisoners of war to be allowed contact with their families and access to the Red Cross. Gilad Shalit's captors even deny him letters from his family. As a parent, I cannot begin to imagine the anguish and heartbreak that he, his parents and family continue to suffer. You may be interested to know that at the time of your statement, your colleague, Franco Frattini, the Foreign minister of Italy, is reported as stating 'that the conditions of Gilad's captivity breached all international rules and showed the terrorist nature of Hamas'. Meanwhile, Rome's City council made Gilad Shalit an honorary citizen of the eternal City. I also draw your attention to the statement issued by the New York-based NGO Human Rights Watch, an organization which could never be accused of being a partisan supporter of Israel. It said that 'Hamas authorities are violating the laws of war by refusing to allow Shalit to correspond with his family', and concluded that Shalit's prolonged incommunicado detention 'may amount to torture'. Unlike your own announcement, the statement by Human Rights Watch concluded: 'Regardless of Hamas' grievances against Israel, there are no grounds to cut Shalit off completely from his family'. The eloquent articulation of similar arguments in Parliament by both Mark Dreyfus MP and Christopher Pyne MP, strongly suggests that there is a bipartisan consensus in support of the relevant humanitarian principles and the way those principles apply in the case of Gilad Shalit. There can be no justification at all for the ongoing inhumane treatment of Gilad Shalit or his continued captivity. His is a burning humanitarian issue which must be considered in its own right and divorced from the issues in contention between Israel and Hamas. It is regrettable that your announcement omitted to make this distinction. It is an omission that is especially troubling to Australian Jewry, in light of the general tenor and positive outcome of our recent discussions at The Lodge. Whilst my community is grateful to the Government for calling for Gillad Shalit's release, we cannot help feeling let down by the inexplicable failure of your announcement to make the clear statement of principle, and send the strong message of support, which the occasion required." (Robert Goot, Not enough, Minister,, 28/6/10)

To which a spokesman for the minister can only respond with the following disconcertingly insubstantial and tepid excuse:

"Australia was one of only a handful of countries to make a formal statement urging Shalit's release, reflecting the strength and sincerity of Australia's views. Sadly, many others have remained silent in the face of his deplorable detention." (Smith's Shalit statement slated, Australian Jewish News, 2/7/10)

Pray for the soul of Stephen Smith.

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