Andrei Sakharov, Elena Bonner and Gilad Schalit

'Why doesn’t the fate of Gilad Schalit trouble you in the same way as does the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?...'

gilad schalit animated film 311 (photo credit: Screenshot)
gilad schalit animated film 311
(photo credit: Screenshot)
Those marching for Gilad Schalit’s freedom will be passing the Gan Sakharov entrance to Jerusalem on Thursday. In the 1950s, Andrei Sakharov was awarded the Stalin Prize for his theoretical work on the hydrogen bomb. Appalled by the dangers of nuclear arms race and the heavy-handedness of the Soviet regime, he became a dissident devoted to human rights. He and his wife Elena Bonner were later exiled to Siberia. To show support for Sakharov, the Nobel Committee awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1975.
In the spring of 2009, Bonner had this to say about Schalit in a speech she gave to the Nobel Committee, reprinted in this newspaper.
“Here is a question that has been a thorn for me for a long time. It’s a question for my human rights colleagues. Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit trouble you in the same way as does the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners?...
“... during the two years Schalit has been held by terrorists, the world human rights community has done nothing for his release. Why? He is a wounded soldier, and fully falls under the protection of the Geneva Conventions. The conventions say clearly that hostage-taking is prohibited, that representatives of the Red Cross must be allowed to see prisoners of war, especially wounded prisoners, and there is much else written in the Geneva Conventions about Schalit’s rights. The fact that representatives of the Quartet conduct negotiations with the people who are holding Schalit in an unknown location, in unknown conditions, vividly demonstrates their scorn of international rights documents and their total legal nihilism. Do human rights activists also fail to recall the fundamental international rights documents?”
WHAT MORE powerful message can there be on behalf of Gilad Schalit than these words. Yet, this message has hardly been heard, not acted upon and not delivered to the addressees with the power to help him. The international community’s designated representatives for carrying the banner of international law have been timid bystanders to this crime against humanity.
We call on the marchers to take their banners to the offices of UNRWA, Tony Blair’s Quartet, the International Red Cross, the World Health Organization and many European based NGOs aiding Gaza. The addresses which should be the target of their protests should be the embassies of the US, Great Britain, Norway and Sweden (the Nobel countries) and the EU. The protesters should set up vigils and sit-ins outside these offices, and organize parallel vigils in Washington outside the White House, the State Department and in London, Brussels, and all the other places where the opinion formers meet. The protesters should be demanding that Hamas’s leaders be put on trial for crimes against humanity for their treatment of Gilad. Even NGOs considered hostile to Israel (e.g. Amnesty, Human Rights Watch) are unanimous on the case for such action.
This is the time to hold the most recent winner of the Nobel Prize, Barack Obama, accountable, for acting on Bonner’s words. Sakharov was a lonely prisoner of conscience exiled to a small cabin in Siberia when the Nobel Committee recognized him for protesting repression. Obama is the leader of the world’s most powerful democracy and is sitting in the White House. Sakharov helped bring freedom to the world. The jury is still out on Obama. It is up to him to lead the way to freeing Gilad. By doing so, he will protect the rights of all captives of terror organizations everywhere.
Back in Sakharov’s time, Western governments listened to several resolute individuals, notably Sakharov himself, Sen. Henry Jackson, and the world stood up to threats posed by Soviet tyranny, repression and mischief making. Sakharov called for the adoption of the Jackson Amendment. The Soviets, desperate for Western technology, accepted the accords. The emigration triggered by Helsinki Accords started the ball rolling toward the loosening up and eventual break-up of the Soviet system in the 1990s.
Today, we see the leaders of the same Western countries cringing to curry favor with a regime led by genocidal terrorists. These terrorists are far less potent than the former Soviet Union, but the West has lost the resolve it had back then.
The free world needs to condition aid to Gaza on granting freedom to Gilad.The fact that it does not do so is a disgrace. The fact that those shaping Israeli public opinion choose to pressure the Israeli government, and not those with the power to hold Hamas accountable for this crime against humanity, is an ever bigger disgrace.
IN 2009, one of us submitted Bonner’s powerful statement to Judge Richard Goldstone during the proceedings of his investigation commission. He ignored these comments. His silence, was an accurate indicator of the free world’s spinelessness.
Now is the time to hold the world community accountable for its responsibility to protect Gilad Schalit and give him the rights enjoyed by persons imprisoned in Guantanamo, for carrying out an act of genocidal terror which resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 civilians. Bonner’s words ring eternal.
We say: March on the embassies of the free world, not our Prime Minister’s Office to free Gilad.
Now is the time for our prime minister to remind the most recent recipient of the Nobel Prize, Barack Obama, of the words of the wife of one the greatest recipients, Andrei Sakharov.
Zelda Harris was one of the leaders in the fight for Soviet Jewry and the founder of Metuna, an organization for prevention road deaths. Prof. Elihu D. Richter is a physician and Head of the Genocide Prevention Program at Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Public Health and Community Medicine.