Wednesday, 23 June 2010
Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit
It is with a heavy heart that I rise this evening to inform the House that this Friday is the fourth anniversary of the capture of Israeli soldier Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit by Palestinian militants. On 25 June 2006, Gilad was captured in a cross-border raid in the Kerem Shalom crossing—ironically translated as the vineyard of peace—between Israel and the Gaza Strip and has since been in the captivity of Hamas, the party that took control of the Palestinian National Authority.
Repeated requests from the international community for his release have, unfortunately, fallen on deaf ears. Hamas has repeatedly refused requests from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Red Crescent to allow the ICRC to visit Shalit. The situation has, unfortunately, turned Gilad into a bargaining tool for Hamas. The day after his capture, Hamas requested the Israeli government release all female Palestinian prisoners and all Palestinian prisoners under the age of 18, in exchange for information about Gilad Shalit—just information. Hamas further requested an additional 1,000 Palestinian prisoners within a 24-hour ultimatum, but Israel refused on the basis that ‘there will be no negotiations to release prisoners’.
Since then, there has been a large number of diplomatic efforts pursued in order to secure Gilad Shalit’s release, but these have all resulted in the negative. Gilad Shalit’s parents constantly live without knowledge about whether their son is alive or dead and they are taunted by Hamas with videos and handwritten memos, which are received in exchange for prisoners. This fear is encompassed by nearly every Israeli citizen, as they realise that it could be their son—compulsorily conscripted into the army—in Gaza. Israelis struggle to conceptualise how they would react in these circumstances and are placed with a dilemma, because when you give in to your captor’s demands, and you have Gilad Shalit returned at any price, you are giving in to people who might have killed other members of your family.
What is remarkable about this situation is the empathy shown by Israelis in their determination to receive one captured soldier—to relieve a parent’s nightmare—for what we have seen to be an exchange for thousands of lives. However, may I query the House as to how many terrorists, militants, must be exchanged for one soldier—why thousands of prisoners for one? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remains in contact with Gilad Shalit’s parents and last week claimed that no efforts were being spared to bring him home. But Gilad Shalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, claim that not enough is being done and will not be giving up any time soon. They are planning to march through Israel and not to return without their son.
I am drawn to this distinctiveness of determination that the Israeli people constantly show. I call on Hamas to immediately release Gilad Shalit. This has been an obstacle to peace for long enough. I do not need to remind the House of my strong commitment over 17 years to a two-state solution, and I have been a supporter of the ongoing peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. I know that almost every member of this House would share that view—both Labor and Liberal, National and even Independent—and some members on both the Labor side and Liberal side feel these issues in a very passionate and bipartisan way.
The coalition maintains its position and is committed to a just and peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I am sure I speak for all honourable members today in hoping that a peaceful solution is acquired in the foreseeable future, because every life that is lost is deplorable. I am sure all members of the House would join with me in calling for the release of Gilad Shalit.