When 'human rights' groups look the other way

When will int'l and Israeli advocacy groups speak up vigorously for Schalit, Goldwasser and Regev?

Gilad Shalit 298 88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Shalit 298 88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It is sad that Gilad, Udi and Eldad were missing from the Schalit, Goldwasser and Regev family Seders this year. Not only their families but all of Israeli society felt their absence. Our lives continue normally, but the abduction of our soldiers and dearth of information about their fate touches each and every one of us. The abduction of the soldiers, the refusal of their captors to permit the International Red Cross to visit them, their complete isolation from the world and the lack of any knowledge regarding their health is one of the most serious crimes being perpetrated by the Palestinian terrorist organizations. What could be more natural, then, than for the celebrated international human-rights organizations, who rush to condemn Israel for crimes real and imagined, to cry out in protest against this ongoing cruelty to the soldiers' families? AMAZINGLY enough, however, until now only a feeble murmur of mild protest has been heard. Human Rights Watch issued a statement on June 29, 2006 which defined the abduction of Gilad Schalit as a war crime. The main thrust of the statement, however, was a condemnation of the Israeli attack on the Gaza power station that came in its wake. Amnesty International, the organization that has - with the support of its Israeli branch -implicitly blamed the Israeli occupation for the many cases of "honor killing" in the territories in which Palestinian women have been murdered by their families, on June 27 called for the release of Shalit, but of course added a knee-jerk condemnation of Israel. But at least these two organizations demanded the release of the abducted soldiers. Unlike them, the Israeli human rights organizations issued a joint statement on the same day in which they neither condemned the abduction as a war crime nor demanded Schalit's release. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), together with the Al-Mazen Center, Hamoked Center for the Defense of the Individual, the Gaza Mental Health Program, the Public Committee against Torture in Israel, the Addamir Prisoner Support Center and Physicians for Human Rights, issued a statement in which they demanded that Gilad Schalit be given medical care. But they did not insist that he be released, or that his captors provide a sign of life from him. SINCE THEN, ACRI has not returned to the matter of the abducted soldiers at all and no mention of them can be found on its Web site. Only the Physicians for Human Rights organization has appealed to its fellow doctors in Lebanon to help free the soldiers who were abducted from Northern Israel into Lebanon. ACRI has kept silent. And it's not that the human rights organizations don't know how to wage an international campaign. On the contrary, if they wanted to they could surely have considerable influence on getting the soldiers released. That is what the British organizations did, contributing to the ultimately successful struggle to release the British captives seized recently by Iran. Why hasn't ACRI demanded the release of the Israeli captives? Why did it make do with a one-time request to provide Schalit with medical care? Why hasn't it at least demanded that the International Red Cross be allowed to visit the captive soldiers? Why has it refrained from taking a stand regarding the soldiers abducted to Lebanon? ACRI has accepted the claim that the abducted soldiers are not prisoners of war, in accordance with the Geneva Convention. However, the convention guarantees a minimum standard of proper treatment for ordinary detainees who are not POWs, and it includes medical treatment. That is why ACRI was content with demanding medical care for Schalit. It is a completely distorted interpretation of international law. If POWs are entitled to visits from the International Red Cross, and to send and receive mail, all the more so should abductees. After all, their seizure is itself a war crime and has been defined as such by Human Rights Watch. And if even Amnesty International has seen fit to demand Schalit's release, what is preventing ACRI from lending its voice to this appeal? One of the organizations had even petitioned the High Court of Justice against the holding of Hizbullah abductees by Israel. Aren't Israeli soldiers entitled to at least that which terrorists and enemy citizens receive? There's no limit to hypocrisy, it seems. ACRI HAS been fighting forcefully for the right of Palestinian spouses of Israeli Arabs to enter Israel and receive residency, and it attacked Justice Mishael Cheshin's ruling against this right with harsh words, calling it ultra-nationalism. It accused Cheshin of "undermining the pillars of constitutional democratic government" (!) - while turning a blind eye to the abduction of soldiers from Israel's sovereign territory. One increasingly gets the feeling that human rights - the issue that, quite rightly, has been placed at the top of international priorities - is no more than a pretext for a very particular world view. ACRI objects to Israel being defined in its constitution as a Jewish state, although it is willing to include historical mention of the Jews' right to self-determination in the preamble. The fact is human rights can be safeguarded in a nation-state too, as is the case in most European countries. There is no connection between ACRI's opposition to Israel's definition as a Jewish state (as stated in the United Nations partition resolution) and the preservation of human rights. One can, of course, object to Israel's Jewish character, but those who use human rights to further this position are exploiting the issue for political ends that have nothing to do with genuine human rights. The writer is former president of the Interdisciplinary Center - Herzliya, Minister of Education and member of the Knesset.