Coronavirus: The imperative for reciprocity of humanitarian aid

To this day, Hamas continues to hold his remains, presumably as a bargaining chip to extract political concessions.

Lt. Hadar Goldin (left) and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul were killed in action in the war against Hamas in 2014 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Lt. Hadar Goldin (left) and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul were killed in action in the war against Hamas in 2014
(photo credit: Courtesy)
On August 1, 2014, during a humanitarian ceasefire of Operation Protective Edge, brokered by the US and the UN and supported by the EU, Lt. Hadar Goldin was killed and abducted by Hamas into the underground terror tunnels in Gaza.
To this day, Hamas continues to hold his remains, presumably as a bargaining chip to extract political concessions. Hamas is also holding the remains of St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, another soldier who was killed in Operation Protective Edge, alongside two Israeli civilians, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed, guided by a heinous, seemingly accepted equation, that it is an asset to hold fellow human beings hostage, rather than the liability it should be.
To lose a child, any child, is the most painful loss, and it is forever impossible to find true comfort for the family. What makes this loss even more painful is the silence of the extended “family of nations”; the inaction of its organizing post-WWII infrastructure; the indifference of their representatives, in the face of the violation of the very law and morality from which they draw their mandate, the very law and morality they are committed to uphold, promote and protect.
For nearly six years, this case and cause has “traveled” the world, hoping to challenge the paradigms and reverse the misconceptions that enable the continued, standing violation of law and morality. This challenge is not the Goldin, Shaul, Mengistu or Sayed families’ challenge. The families are indeed paying the heavy price, but the responsibility to address this challenge is not theirs. It belongs to Israel, to the UN, the EU and the US.
Their personal state of limbo, imposed by the rationale of a terror organization, cynically and intentionally using grief as a strategic asset, is but a testament to the challenges that affect all individuals and societies who cherish human rights. As such, it should be all of our concern and call to action, leading to an ensuing international demand to break the silence.
In December 2017, there was a small break in the international silence when the United Nations Security Council held a special session on missing persons in Gaza since 2014. It issued a consensual demand for the immediate and unconditional return of Goldin and Shaul, as well as a declaration that the refusal to repatriate their remains constitutes a standing violation of international humanitarian law.
In June 2019, the Security Council passed Resolution 2474 on missing persons, explicitly addressing the responsibility of all state members and international organizations to protect and implement these obligations, as part of agreements and peace-building processes proposed to resolve armed conflict. According to this resolution, returning Goldin and Shaul for burial, along with two civilians, Mengistu and Sayed – must be acknowledged as a confidence building measure, in any process intended to improve the situation in Gaza.
Indeed, that was the understanding in a meeting held with UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres (in August 2019), who expressed wholehearted support and acknowledged the imperative to hold to account blatant violators of the law, and all those that enable the continued holding of soldiers and civilians hostage, encouraging the culture of impunity by refraining from the demand for their immediate and unconditional return. 
But other than words, nothing concrete has happened. The UNs has not withheld aid from Hamas, demanding that they abide by its resolution. It has enabled Hamas to “hold the stick at both ends” – benefiting from humanitarian aid while defying the very precepts upon which it is founded, to the detriment of the 2 million civilians it continues to hold as human shields.
Nearly six years have passed, and the international community continues to be silent in the face of this standing violation. Worse, nearly six years have passed, and international funding and aid flows into Gaza unconditionally, without any precondition or expectation, empowering Hamas’s blatant disregard for international law. The UN and the US had a categorical duty to ensure that the ceasefire agreement they brokered was kept nearly six years ago. To date, little has been done, to the detriment of us all.
The coronavirus, a global challenge that does not differentiate between us, harbors the potential of righting this outstanding wrong. As international attention turns to humanitarian aid between peoples, transcending boundaries of politics, religion or geography, it is evident that the foundational principles upon which humanitarian law is founded cannot be applied selectively, lest they be undermined.
As Israel is acknowledged for aid it offers Gaza, directly and indirectly; for the humanitarian values guiding it to be sustainable – it must be reciprocated. The religious precepts, inspiring the funding, initiatives and programs in Gaza, must be respected, prescribing the imperative to repatriate the two deceased soldiers for proper burial according to religious edict, in Israel. The ethical precepts, guiding reported initiatives for return and release of civilians and prisoners, to ensure their health and well-being, must be upheld, prescribing the imperative to return the two civilians (about whom, despite legal mechanisms and obligations, there is no information to date) to their country of citizenship, Israel.
This is an opportunity for a first, confidence-building measure, not only in the face of the overwhelming challenges of a global pandemic. It harbors the potential of being a first, confidence-building measure in the prospective advancement of peace and prosperity in the Gaza Strip, in the spirit of international law and Resolution 2474. To that end, pressure must be brought on Hamas to fulfill the obligation they made and dishonored, nearly six years ago.
Under the auspices of the coronavirus, the imperative for reciprocity of humanitarian aid, highlighted by this case and cause, has the potential of enabling the renewal of international commitments and covenants; of ensuring that rogue regimes are held to account for egregious violations of international law.
Continued failure to do so under the auspices of humanitarian aid imperative at the time of the coronavirus, will not only empower Hamas, but embolden terrorist regimes world over, to violate principles of law, morality and basic human decency. For humanitarian aid to have continued meaning and effectivity, generally and in these trying times, it is imperative to safeguard its reciprocity. Under the auspices of the coronavirus, it is time to insist on the immediate repatriation of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and the return of Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed.
The writer is legal adviser to the Goldin family. A legal and social activist and publicist, she is researching the topic of free speech in the “Human Rights under Pressure – Ethics, Law and Politics” doctoral program and is a research fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism.