Where is Gilad Schalit?

In marking yesterday's fifth anniversary of French-Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit's abduction, Hamas has released photos of a Palestinian actor evoking images of 'Shalit at old age' looking thru prison bars. The pictures include symbolic messages with a hanging photo of Israeli navigator Ron Arad, who has been missing in action for 25 years, and several written messages on the cell wall that are supposed to be from Schalit to Israel. These are taunting words, words of abandonment, rescue pleas at any price, and 'I miss Mom', poking fun and pointing to his fate to be the same as Ron Arad's. This seems to be the best that Hamas has come up with in response to a growing demand to prove that Gilad Schalit is still alive.

It has been five years since Hamas terrorists tunneled into an IDF post, killed two Israeli soldiers and kidnapped Gilad Schalit. Any proof of Schalit's life has been given only in exchange for the release of Israeli-held terror-prisoners and that ended in 2009. The Israeli government has determined, and rightfully so, that convicted terror-prisoner release is dangerous for their national security.

Recently leaders from the US, France, Britain and Italy called for Hamas to let the International Red Cross visit Schalit, but were turned down. Even in Iran, the three young hikers who were arrested for crossing their border illegally and accused of spying were allowed a family member to visit.  For the first time since Schalit's capture, the International Red Cross (ICRC) has demanded publicly that Hamas prove that Schalit is still alive. "Because no sign of life has been had from Schalit for nearly two years," the Red Cross publicly stated that: "We demand that Hamas provide proof that he is still alive." But Hamas has responded with rejection, claiming that the Red Cross is intervening in Israel's "security games."

The offer Hamas presently has on the table is an exchange with Schalit for the release of 1,000 convicted terrorists. So far, PM Netanyahu is taking a firm position, as did the previous Olmert government. The international organization points out that Hamas' refusal to allow them a visit with Schalit, amounts to inhuman treatment and is "totally unacceptable." ICRC's Director-General, Yves Daccord said: "The total absence of information concerning Mr. Schalit is completely unacceptable...The Shalit family have the right under international humanitarian law to be in contact with their son...Hamas has an obligation under international humanitarian law to protect Mr. Shalit's life, to treat him humanely and to let him have contact with his family,"

With this in mind, Netanyahu has presented a different approach to the situation. Hamas leaders clearly recognize the difference in prisoner treatment between Hamas jails and Israeli jails. In fact, it is Mosab Hasan Yousef, the son of one of the Hamas leaders, who has been outspoken on the contrast of humanitarian treatment he received in an Israeli prison compared to the deprivation in Arab jails. It was this humanness that got him to become, as some would claim, a traitor to his people, and helped Israel's Shin Bet save lives. 

Several members of the Knesset recognized how well the prisoners are treated in their jails while Israeli soldiers are so poorly treated in Arab jails.  In 2009, a law was proposed by eight members of the Knesset to "do justice and put an end to the absurd situation in which Israeli soldiers and civilians kidnapped by terrorist groups are held in sub-human conditions, while terrorist prisoners who belong to the same groups and who took part in murderous attacks on innocent civilians, enjoy superior conditions;" but the proposal was rejected by Netanyahu's government. At the end of the Israeli President's conference on June 20, Netanyahu said that he is committed to upholding Israeli and international law, but not exceeding their strict requirements. The Prime Minister's closing remarks included: "We are not committed to anything beyond that. As such the magnanimous conditions in the Israeli jails will end...I believe that if we all place public, political pressure on Hamas, we will advance Gilad's release."

The following is a list of some of the privileges terrorist inmates are given in Israel, all provided by Israeli taxpayers:

  1. Prisoners are often allowed, against the rules, to have their children visit them without a glass partition. Family groups are also permitted frequent visitation rights.
  2. Three hours a day of social time where they can get together with other prisoners to talk or play games like ping-pong, basketball, soccer and backgammon, using equipment and facilities provided for each activity.
  3. In their cell, each prisoner has a TV set with 12 channels, including programming in Arabic.
  4. Personal items are allowed near a prisoner's bed including food, cigarettes, and books.
  5. Inmates are allowed to pursue an education, and many leave jail with a degree they have earned while being incarcerated.
  6. Female prisoners are permitted to keep very young children with them in the cell.
  7. Many prisoners receive money from the terror group they represent and are allowed as much as 1,200 shekels worth of food from the canteen every month.
  8. As far as meals, inmates receive fish and meat on holidays. It is often said that released Israeli prisoners come home healthier and fatter and the quality of their life is much less when they return to Gaza.

It is quite clear that the Israelis continue to believe that they answer to a 'Higher Judge' and believe in doing right in the face of evil, even with their prisoners. However, in this situation, one can make the moral argument that the Israeli prison system is overly righteous, making capture and imprisonment of terrorists too pleasant, almost too attractive.

The past five years of dealing with Hamas and Schalit's kidnapping has been a great frustration to many, exacerbated by the past 2 years of silence. Is Gilad Schalit still alive? The time has come for international pressure to find out the truth. Hamas' denial for Red Cross visitation, masked in rhetoric, and the release of these offensive photos, is certainly a delaying tactic and one has to wonder where is Gilad Schalit on this fifth anniversary of his abduction?

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