Red Cross Still Not Seeing Israeli Captives

by Hillel Fendel

Regarding the three Israeli captives, the ICRC has been unable to fulfill its mission to "protect the lives and dignity of victims of war and internal violence and to provide them with assistance".

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) spokesperson in Tel Aviv, Sharon Yechezkel-Oron, told Arutz-7 today that though the organization has made, and continues to make, efforts to see the three Israeli soldiers most recently abducted by Hamas and Hizbullah, the kidnappers refuse to allow such visits.Asked what public pressure the ICRC is exerting in order to get to see the three, the spokesperson noted the issuance of several press statements expressing the organization's concern over the plight of the abducted soldiers.The last such press announcement was issued on August 9, stating that ICRC president Jacob Kelenberger had arrived in Israel and would discuss with Israeli officials "the humanitarian situation in northern Israel and in Lebanon, access to those in need, and the fate of captured soldiers and other people detained in connection with the conflict."A week earlier, another press announcement gave similar short shrift to the matter. On August 1, the ICRC called "upon the Israeli authorities to renew, as soon as possible, the family visits" for Arab terrorist prisoners that had been stopped "over a month ago." The announcement did not note that Israel had stopped the program because of Gilad Shalit's kidnapping. Instead, the announcement concluded, "The ICRC again calls on those holding the soldiers captured on June 25 and July 12 to allow them to make contact with their relatives and loves ones. Similarly, the ICRC has requested access to the soldiers and pressed those holding them to treat them humanely and preserve their lives and dignity."In response to the claim that no announcement on the matter had been issued in a month and that the captives' issue seemed always to be buried among other issues, Yechezkel-Oron said, "The official announcements do not reflect the extent of our activity on the matter. There are behind-the-scenes contacts being made all the time. We are not a military organization, and we cannot force them."Arutz-7 then asked why the ICRC does not hold a special press conference to declare that Hamas and Hizbullah refuse to allow visits to the captives. "Would this not keep the matter in the public eye, be the subject of newspaper articles, and force the world community to take note?" she was asked. The spokesperson responded that the ICRC and its demands had been mentioned in recent media articles regarding the captives.Arutz-7 also spoke with Mr. Georgios Georgantas, head of the ICRC's Gaza delegation. In response to the above point, he said, "You are outlining one strategy, but... the ICRC strategy is generally that of 'confidential dialogue.'"On the ICRC's website, the most recent bulletin on the situation in Gaza does not even mention Gilad Shalit. The bulletin discusses issues such as the 14 generators the ICRC provided for water pumps, aid to needy Gazan families, health services, and Israel's renewal of the prisoner-visit program - under which 600 people from the Gaza Strip, and 6,000 from Judea and Samaria, visit their detained relatives each week - but says nothing about the Israeli captive. Yechezkel-Oron said she would take note of this omission. Georgantas, head of the ICRC's Gaza delegation, acknowledged that though the ICRC's announcements have not mentioned the soldiers' plight over the past month, "we have other ways of calling for his release, almost on a daily basis. We have regular contacts with various groups in Gaza - political factions and so on - and we keep repeating our request to have access to him." Asked if he has regular contact with the ICRC's world headquarters in Geneva on this matter, Georgantas said that the Tel Aviv delegation is the chief delegation for Israel and the PA-controlled areas, and that therefore, the Tel Aviv office is more in contact with Geneva than is the Gaza office.Asked what the next step will be, Georgantas said, "The next step is not to give up."Arutz-7 also spoke with Bernard Barrett, Information Delegate for the ICRC in Jerusalem. Asked if in light of the failure of the ICRC and others to prevent Hizbullah from hiding the fact that it had murdered at least one Israeli hostage in 2000, might the ICRC not reconsider its strategy in the present case. "We are still convinced," he responded, "that the most effective way is to continue to insist that the soldiers be treated humanely and be afforded communication with their families, and if at all possible, to allow them to be visited, and we insist on this in our meetings with them."Asked how often these meetings take place, Barrett said, "Oh, at least once a week, if not more often."Last month, U.S. Congressman Alcee Hastings (Fl.-D) and Canadian Senator (Liberal Party) Jerry Grafstein wrote to their respective Red Cross movements and urged the organization to find ways to visit or inquire after the well-being of the soldiers.The ICRC can be emailed as follows:
The Washington office
The Geneva office
The Tel Aviv office