Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate)- As we enter the fifth year of the captivity of Gilad Shalit at the hands of his Hamas tormenters, we cannot escape the importance of the continued struggle for his freedom.
On the morning of 25 June 2006, eight terrorists used a tunnel excavated during a period of ceasefire to launch an unprovoked assault on an Israeli Defense Forces position.
IDF soldiers were attacked while guarding a place called Kerem Shalo -‘Vineyard of Peace’- a border crossing which enables trade between Israel
For years facilities such as these have been attacked by Palestinian terror organisations because of a brutal opposition to any exchange that might
foster an end to the conflict.
Firing automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, the attackers killed
two soldiers, Lieutenant Hanan Barak and Sergeant Pavel Slutzker, both 20, and injured three more.
They abducted then-19-year-old Corporal Gilad Shalit, who was seen being publicly dragged, wounded, into Gaza, where he is believed to have been held captive since then.
Gilad has been virtually shut off from the outside world; the only signs of life have been three letters and a short video, for which 20 Palestinian prisoners were released in exchange.
The International Red Cross has been refused any access.
Mail and aid packages cannot reach him.
To make a mockery of his family’s pain and anguish, Hamas has staged re-enactments of the kidnapping.
They have held plays in which actors portraying Gilad beg for their release.
They have even released an animated film depicting an aged Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father, grieving over his son’s coffin.
Gilad Shalit was born on 28 August 1986 to parents Aviva and Noam Shalit.
Gilad’s family lives in Mitzpe Hila, a small village in western Galilee.
He grew up playing basketball and soccer with his neighbourhood friends. He was a great fan of the American NBA.
In high school he excelled in physics and maths and often helped other students.
Like his uncle before him, Gilad joined the tank division when he was drafted into
the IDF in 2005.
His story resonates with the Israeli people because many in the ranks of the Israeli Defense Forces are young citizens fulfilling the obligation to serve their country; it could have been any Israeli’s son or daughter who was captured that morning.
His plight has become the plight of an entire nation.
Public events mark his birthday and the anniversary of his kidnapping.
Photographs of Gilad as a teenager appear on public walls and fly on flags from car antennas.
His name is inscribed on bracelets worn by Israeli youth and the number of days of his captivity is publicly displayed near the Prime Minister’s residence.
Israel in this situation was attacked from a territory which it does not occupy and over which it makes no claim.
It was attacked from a territory from which it had withdrawn in an effort to forge peace.
Let us not forget that the territory from which the raid was launched claimed to be a democracy, but real democracies respect the rule of law; real democracies
do not take hostages; and real democracies do not allow entities within their borders to operate outside the law, to launch attacks on their neighbours and to kidnap their neighbours’ citizens.
There should be no doubt, if ever there was, that any claim of democracy is a facade for a brutal and ugly agenda.
Hamas has granted no quarter to civilian populations on either side of the border; Hamas has fired more than 10,000 missiles indiscriminately at the
population centres in Israel.
Hamas deliberately and contemptuously puts the residents of Gaza in danger
by storing and using weapons in civilian areas.
Hamas enforces the isolation of Gaza and its people. The truth is that Hamas seeks neither peace nor prosperity for Gazans.
Captive with Gilad are all Israelis and Palestinians, hostage to a cynical and violent campaign of jihad being waged by Hamas and its fellow travellers.
Israel’s difficult journey reconciling the nation’s security needs with the Jewish principle of pidyon shvuyim, the redemption of prisoners, reveals the enduring strength of its national character.
Every effort has been made to secure Gilad’s release, yet for months at a time Hamas does not respond to proposals mediated in good faith by third parties.
His captors continue to issue unreasonable demands and ultimatums for Israel to release as many as 1,000 prisoners. Many on its list are convicted of fatal terrorist attacks.
Gilad Shalit should not languish a moment longer. His family and his nation should not spend another moment in torment.
He should be released without equivocation, condition or delay.
Gilad was defending his country, democracy and the rule of law, but above all Gilad was defending his homeland, defending Israel from those sworn to
The state of Israel has the right to defend itself but, more than that, the government of Israel has an obligation to protect its citizens and to fail to do so
would be a dereliction of its duty.
Australia has always stood by the people of Israel and I think always will, but ultimately it is because of soldiers like Gilad that the nation of Israel still stands.
Israel consistently strives to maintain the rules of international law. This
acknowledgement is not reciprocated by its enemies, who cynically push for Israel to be held to the highest standards of compliance with the very rules
they comprehensively repudiate.
Taking a hostage to compel a state to do or abstain from any act is criminal.
Prohibiting prisoners contact with their families is criminal. Refusing any right of visitation by a humanitarian body is criminal.
Those who kidnapped Gilad are criminals, and for too long the international
community has passively accepted Gilad’s captivity.
For too long Hamas has not taken seriously the imperative of negotiations to secure his return.
For too long many have ignored the fundamental injustice of the suffering and isolation of an innocent youth.
The criticism of Israel’s efforts to enforce a blockade against arms shipments to Hamas cannot be a distraction from Gilad’s confinement and deprivation.
The campaign to free Gilad grows stronger.
On 30 August 2010, dozens of students gathered in Melbourne to reflect on Gilad Shalit’s 24th birthday, marking the 1,525th day he has been held in captivity.
I acknowledge the tireless efforts of Gilad’s family and all of his supporters.
The pain of his family is shared by many of their fellow citizens and supporters, and these efforts continue to bring light to the struggle of Gilad.
Contrary to all standards of international law and decency, a young man’s life still hangs precariously in the balance.
The international community must escalate its advocacy on behalf of Gilad and all those who Hamas holds hostage, not just in words but in deeds.
Ours-Australia’s and Israel’s-is a solidarity built on common values.
Israel is indeed a beacon of hope and liberty in the Middle East.
It is a great and robust democracy, a nation of free men and women, and Australia, I hope, will stand by them.
We must not rest until the message is heard: Gilad Shalit must be freed.