'Freeing Schalit would help Palestinian statehood bid'

As Schalit family marks 5th anniversary of Gilad's kidnapping, French official tells 'Post': "When one pretends to be a state ruled by law, one has to show respect for basic international humanitarian law.”

June 26, 2011 01:04
4 minute read.
Noam and Aviva Schalit

Schalit parents 311. (photo credit: courtesy)

Releasing IDF soldier Gilad Schalit from captivity in Gaza would go a long way toward proving to the international community that Palestinians are ready for statehood in September, France’s Ambassador for Human Rights Francois Zimeray said on Friday.

Schalit, 24, holds dual Israeli-French citizenship, and France has actively lobbied on his behalf since Hamas kidnapped him on June 25, 2006, as he patrolled the Gaza border near Kerem Shalom with his tank unit.

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“We consider him to be a citizen of France. He is a hostage, kept in violation of all human rights,” Zimeray told The Jerusalem Post.

“France is completely and fully dedicated to his liberation.”

He did not directly link Schalit’s release to France’s position on the Palestinian bid for unilaterally declared statehood, but he did say that it would help.

“In a few months, the international community will have to determine itself on the question of recognizing a Palestinian state,” Zimeray said. “I do not know what our position will be. That is not the point. The only thing I can say is when one pretends to be a state ruled by law, one has to show respect for basic international humanitarian law.”

On Saturday, Schalit’s family, friends and supporters marked the fifth anniversary of his kidnapping. Activists gathered midday at Keren Shalom and called on the government to procure Schalit’s release by Hamas.

In Herzliya, celebrities, actors and politicians began a 24-hour vigil in a prison cell they constructed. Every hour on the hour a different celebrity entered the cell and sat there. The event, which started at 8 p.m., can be seen live on Facebook.

In Jerusalem, Schalit’s family sat on the curb outside the Prime Minister’s Residence and chained themselves to a fence.

“We are tired of excuses, words and explanations,” Schalit’s father, Noam, told reporters as he sat there.

“The time has come for the government, which sent him on that mission [at Kerem Shalom], to bring him home,” Noam Schalit said.

He added that after five years, the only thing the government has done is to announce that it plans to make conditions worse in Israeli jails for Palestinian security prisoners.

And it might not even be able to make that stick, he added.

Noam Schalit warned that the family was considering embarking on a new and more extreme campaign.

On Sunday, he is to hold a press conference, in which it is expected that he will discuss some of those new steps.

On Saturday, French Ambassador Christophe Bigot visited Schalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, in the protest tent for Gilad located on the sidewalk near the Prime Minister’s Residence.

He handed them a letter from French President Nicolas Sarkozy, addressed to Gilad.

In the letter, Sarkozy told Schalit he could not accept the isolation that the young man’s imprisonment had imposed upon him for the past five years.

“It is a terrible situation, nothing can justify it,” Sarkozy wrote. “It is unacceptable that no one, including family and friends, can communicate with Schalit.”

He called on Hamas to release Schalit, and barring that, to allow the Red Cross to visit him.

“Since you were kidnapped,” Sarkozy told Schalit in his letter, “I have taken it upon myself to do everything I can ensure that you are returned to your family. I have repeated this commitment to your father, when I met him again at the Elysee Palace on June 10, and I am repeating it again now.

“France will not abandon you to your fate. It will not stop working [on your behalf], along with others, including in the Arab world, so that your unjustified suffering will come to an end.

“I know that this waiting seems to be never ending, but our hopes and our efforts will bear fruit,” Sarkozy said.

Hamas, however, warned on Saturday that Schalit would not see the light of day until Palestinian prisoners enjoy freedom in the context of a “dignified prisoner swap.”

Hamas held Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu responsible for the consequences of the failure of efforts to secure a prisoner exchange.

The Islamist movement claimed that it was Netanyahu’s “intransigence and criminal policies” that were delaying an agreement. It also urged human rights and legal organizations to put pressure on Israel to “protect Palestinian prisoners against Zionist repression.”

Hamas’s armed wing, Izzadin Kassam, published a video clip in which it also vowed that Schalit would never be free until Palestinian prisoners are released from Israeli jail.

The video contains a scene where Schalit’s face is replaced with that of IAF navigator Ron Arad, who ejected from his airplane in Lebanon in 1986, was captured, and whose whereabouts have long been unknown.

Also on Saturday, Hamas published photos of an actor impersonating a grey-haired, elderly Schalit sitting in a tiny jail cell.

On the walls of the cell, the “prisoner Schalit” has written graffiti reading: “My fate is the same as that of Ron Arad,” “Save me at any cost” and “I miss mom.”

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