|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Press Conference by Father of Captive Israeli Soldier Gilad Shalit
Visiting the United Nations as a “father who wants to bring his son home”, the father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit said today that his son’s release must be considered in the context of the Palestinian bid for recognition as a Member State during the upcoming General Assembly session.
“A first step in the Palestinian request for receiving international recognition and legitimacy … is stopping this grave breach of international law,” Noam Shalit said at a Headquarters press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Israel. He stressed that his son had been kept incommunicado, as a bargaining chip, for the past five years. He was not allowed to see either his family or representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross, a violation of international humanitarian law that could be classified as a war crime.
Recalling that the Palestinian Authority had signed a reconciliation agreement with Hamas and sought to represent all Palestinians at the United Nations, he said the Authority must therefore take responsibility for dealing with Hamas if it wished to gain international legitimacy. Bearing that message, he had met with senior United Nations officials as well as ambassadors from several countries, including the United States, United Kingdom, France and Italy. They had all agreed that it was critical that the Palestinian Authority abide by international humanitarian law, he said, adding that he had asked them to raise the matter with representatives of the Palestinian Authority in the context of its quest for membership in the Organization.
Gilad Shalit was kidnapped from Israeli territory by Hamas and other armed groups from Gaza in June 2006, at the age of 19, in a cross-border raid in which two Israeli soldiers were killed, said the elder Mr. Shalit, stressing that the military unit to which his son belonged was in a defensive posture when attacked. In the 1,900 days that followed, not a moment had gone by when every member of the family had not feared for his life. During that time, they had only received three notes, in addition to an audiotape and videotapes, the most recent of which had been received two years ago. At that point they had known nothing about his health, or even whether he was still alive.
Responding to questions, Mr. Shalit said he had attempted to meet the Permanent Observer of Palestine through the Permanent Representative of France; his request had been denied without explanation. The new administration in Egypt, which under President Hosni Mubarak had been in charge of negotiations with Hamas from 2006 to 2009, was again taking the lead in trying to broker a deal, but there had been no breakthroughs as yet, he said, adding that he had no knowledge of any Turkish involvement in the effort.
To questions concerning his thoughts about Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, he said he sympathized with their parents, but their situation was different since the Red Cross, their families and legal advisers were able to visit them. In any case, he stressed, Israel had expressed its readiness to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for his son’s freedom, according to the last proposal brokered by Germany.
He said he had tried to appeal to Palestinian families, but the situation with Hamas in Gaza had made such contacts difficult. In addition, Israeli authorities in the West Bank were not in favour of any deals with Hamas, he said. “The captivity of my son is a real bottleneck in the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians.”
To questions about the political situation in the Middle East, he stressed that he was not speaking for the Israeli Government, but only for his family. They were in favour of any process that brought about peace between Israelis and Palestinians and favoured a two-State solution. Declining to comment on the flotilla incident, he nevertheless expressed hope that Turkey and Israel could resolve the matter on the basis of the Palmer report.
Asked what his son’s career plans had been before his abduction, he said that he had not made many plans since had just graduated high school and started his compulsory military service. Mr. Shalit said that so much time had passed that he felt as though he no longer knew his son. He had no confirmation of reports that he had fasted for Ramadan. There had been many attempts at “psychological warfare” to convince his family to exert pressure on the Israeli Government, he added.
He said he did not know of any United Nations involvement in attempts to gain access to his son for the Red Cross. In a meeting this morning, [Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator] Valerie Amos had expressed grave criticism of Israel but had promised to use all her channels to urge the Palestinians to comply with humanitarian law.
Asked what message he wished to send the Permanent Observer of Palestine, he said: “For their own benefit, for their own sake, they should stop this violation of international law, and for the sake of the many Palestinian prisoners that would be released when they accept the swap.”
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