The Shalit story, more than 870 days later
By Guy Senbel for Guysen International News
Samedi 25 octobre 2008 à 07:50
Editorial of the week, October 25, 2008
We would like to bring the attention of our readers this week to the situation regarding the release of Gilad Shalit, Israeli soldier and French-Israeli citizen, held as a hostage by the Hamas in Gaza for more than 870 days. Along with journalist Florence Aubenas, who was a former hostage in Iraq, and popular Sephardic French singer Patrick Bruel, Noam Shalit, father of the young soldier hostage in Gaza, held a press conference on Wednesday, October 22, in Paris. Noam Shalit came to Paris from his home in northern Israel to ask the French government to get more involved in working for the release of his, 852 days after he was seized.
The image of Gilad Shalit is not the same as that of Ingrid Betancourt. The media often paints a picture of him as simply a prisoner of the Hamas. As a corporal in the IDF, the Israeli army often pictured negatively by the press, Gilad Shalit was doing his military service. His image is of prisoner of war, no doubt the reason why mobilizing public opinion for him has been so difficult. Seizing him as a hostage was a political act. Kidnapping a soldier while he is doing his military is a military act. Should people not mobilize for him simply because he was seized while serving in the army?
Noam Shalit is asking this of the French government because his son is also French, just like Ingrid Betancourt, held for several years by the FARC in Colombia. Public opinion still sees her as the former Franco-Colombian hostage. France got involved in her release and gave Ingrid Betancourt a hero’s welcome when she arrived in her country of adoption. She became the French ambassador for the concept of freedom, and is now leading a political battle in the name of justice.
It all began on June 25, 2006, when a Hamas commando attacked an Israeli military post on the edge of the Gasa Strip. Two IDF soldiers were killed and another, 19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit, was seized and dragged across the border into Gaza.
From that moment there were attempts to mobilize public opinion in France and in Israel.. But the not-very-dynamic initiatives were poorly coordinated, so little happened. One notable exception was the effort made by deputy Rudy Salles beginning the fall of 2007, when disquieting information was circulating about the poor health of soldier Shalit in the hands of the Hamas. Salles publicly called on French authorities “to do what they could to intervene for the release of Shalit.”
The Paris mayor’s office had hung a huge photo poster on its building facade of Ingrid Bettancourt, kidnapped and held by the radical leftist FARC guerilla group in Colombia for several years in the jungle with hundreds of other Colombians. Bettancourt has duel French-Colombia citizenship, as Gilad Shalit has dual French-Israeli citizenship. The mayor’s office did not replace the Colombian deputy’s photo with that of Galid Shalit. But the 16th arrondisement or district mayor’s office did put up its own giant Shalit poster.
Noam Shalit came to Paris for his captive son on Wednesday, September 22. He said his release was urgently needed and that public opinion had to be mobilized. The Shalit father is counting more than ever, since Nicolas Sarkozy was elected president, on the strong influence of France in parts of the Middle East. The message is: “there is another French hostage to be released.”
Gilad Shalit is indeed French. It was in the name of France that Noam Shalit came to Paris and asked the French government to mobilize its resources for the release of his son.
Journalist Florence Aubenas, a former hostage in Iraq, feels no ambiguity about mobilizing French resources for Gilad. “He wore a uniform, and obviously does not have the same role that I did when I was kidnapped as a journalist,” she said pointedly, “but it is the status of victim of arbitrary detention that comes first.” Aubenas called on French colleagues “not to let ourselves be blinded by the high-charged and emotional context in France that surrounds the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”
News from the Middle East reflects the political dimension of the entire Shalit story. Negotiations with the Hamas for his release have been going almost nowhere on and off for two years. First secret and then with full media coverage, they highlight the diplomatic role played by Egypt, the chief mediator in the region. Negotiators were recently preparing an accord based on a prisoner exchange. There was talk of 1000 Palestinian prisoners. Israeli public opinion took no offense at the large number. In fact, several thousand Israelis demonstrated next to the Gaza border on Sunday, October 19. The mobilization is spreading, several months after the bodies of Eldad Regev and Ehud Goldwasser were exchanged with the Hezbollah for a particular vicious Lebanese Shiite terrorist killer, Samir Kuntar, and several other men.
Noam Shalit was also in France to launch the official support committee for his son, with the help of Hervé Morro, the former spokesman for the support committee to release Ingrid Bettancourt in Colombia.Tonight we are thinking of Gilad Shalit, hostage of the Hamas in Gaza for more than 870 days.