What about Gilad Schalit?

What about Gilad Schalit

The Goldstone Report has rightly been sternly criticized for its myriad deficiencies. Even stalwart supporters of the investigation have added their own degree of disapproval. In a recent article, B'Tselem's Jessica Montell admitted to being "disturbed" and "unsettled" by Goldstone's allegation that the IDF conducted a deliberate policy of targeting Gazan civilians. Yet she and her NGO colleagues have remained characteristically silent on Goldstone's scandalous treatment of captured IDF soldier Gilad Schalit as a side issue. As Israel is left to nauseatingly pawn terrorists for proof that Shalit is alive, the tokenism afforded by his captivity breeds further mistrust of the moral claims of Goldstone and the human rights community. To be clear, Goldstone's report does call for Schalit's release. But this demand is given little prominence, with only two of 452 pages devoted to the issue, including an appalling moral inversion. Rather than focus on Schalit's incarceration itself, Goldstone is more concerned that if Israel maintains a blockade to secure his release, Schalit's captivity would be the cause of illegal "collective punishment." GIVEN THAT the lengthy report constitutes a 'cut and paste' of NGO 'evidence, including over 500 citations to their material, it is hardly surprising that the NGO community reflects Goldstone's disregard for Schalit. Their mandates may suggest a natural role as leading campaigners for Schalit, but organizations such as Physicians for Human Rights-Israel and Association for Civil Rights in Israel are conspicuous by their virtual silence. Barring isolated mentions of his fate, there has been almost total inaction from the likes of Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and B'Tselem in protecting Schalit's basic human rights. When these infrequent references have been published, they have invariably been placed in the context of condemning Israel for "war crimes," "wanton destruction" or "collective punishment". The immorality of this position is exemplified by those NGOs who cling to the legal fallacy that Israel continues to 'occupy' Gaza, ignoring the reality of the 2005 disengagement. They fail to appreciate the irony that the only remaining Israeli in Gaza, Gilad Schalit, has been held illegally and entirely against his will for more than three years. Goldstone's report and its defenders have rightly been condemned for failing to place last winter's violence in context. The treatment of Schalit as a footnote to the Gaza conflict is another terrible example of the unwillingness to apply human rights to Israelis. In Gilad Schalit, Israelis see their own sons or brothers. The covenant between Israeli citizens and its army, that both will do everything possible to protect the safety of the other, is central to understanding Israeli military thinking. By sidelining Gilad Schalit, it is a factor that both Goldstone and the NGO community choose to ignore. The primacy given by the State of Israel to the fate of even one individual soldier reveals a compassion totally at odds with Goldstone's sinister and false accusation that the IDF launched "a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorize a civilian population." The symbolism of Schalit is particularly powerful for the thousands of IDF soldiers who entered Gaza in the knowledge that they risk being the next to suffer the horrors of captivity. Yet it is their actions which are being scrutinized as never before. NGOs are calling relentlessly for Israel to comply with Goldstone's recommendation to open an independent inquiry into 'war crimes' allegations. B'Tselem's Montell is among those leading the charge, lamenting how "the authorities have stubbornly refused" their demands. That the Israeli authorities have already investigated over 100 charges of wrongdoing, with 23 cases still pending is deemed insufficient. One wonders how many convictions Israel must secure, how many IDF soldiers must be offered as sacrificial lambs, to satisfy Goldstone and his NGO cheerleaders. What is clear is that neither intends on dedicating anywhere near the same enthusiasm to free Gilad Schalit as they do to convicting the very soldiers who risk sharing his fate. Until they rectify this immoral imbalance, the demands of both will remain baseless and they will justifiably be viewed with continued suspicion. The writer is Communications Director of NGO Monitor, www.ngo-monitor.org