Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (19:01): Thank you, Mr Deputy President. I turn now to the other issue I referred to earlier, a matter which is a terrible tragedy. Last week marked the five-year anniversary of the abduction of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. I have raised this matter in the chamber because I think that it is important that Australia stands strong in its support of his struggle to be freed. On 25 June 2006, Gilad Shalit, then 19 years old, was taken captive by Hamas terrorists in a crossborder attack on Israel. Using automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, the attackers injured three soldiers and killed two others. Kidnapping a wounded Corporal Gilad Shalit, the attackers were seen dragging him into Gaza, where it is believed he still remains.
It has been 1,826-odd days since his family last saw him and since Gilad was free to walk among his people. Since that day, Gilad has remained a hostage of Hamas, kept alive to be used as a pawn in negotiations with Israel. The only signs of life have been three letters and a short video released in 2009, which was gained only because Israel released 20 Palestinian prisoners convicted of fatal terrorist attacks. Based in a tent outside the Israeli Prime Minister’s residence, Gilad’s parents vow to stay until their son is returned to them. Mail and aid packages cannot reach Gilad and the International Red Cross is refused access. His treatment by Hamas demonstrates that organisation’s contempt for the rule of law. Gilad was captured while defending his home against those waging a violent war against Israel. To Hamas, he is merely collateral to be used to compel the Israeli government to meet their demands.
It is important to remember that it was Israel that was attacked in that cross-border raid and is now forced to make concessions. It was Israel that withdrew unilaterally from Gaza in an effort to build peace, and it is Israel that is held to a standard no other country is expected to meet. Israel is often condemned for availing itself of the right of every nation state to defend itself. The state of Israel has the right to defend itself and, more than that, the Israeli government has a duty to do everything in its power to protect its people.
We should not be mistaken in our assessment: Hamas is a terrorist organisation. It took power in Gaza by force following Israel’s withdrawal, executing hu dreds of its political opponents in cold blood It has fired thousands upon thousands of missiles at heavily populated areas in Israel and it has the temerity to launch those missiles from land from which Israel withdrew in pursuit of peace. Hamas does not seek peace. Hamas seeks the destruction of Israel.
Those who claim to fight for human rights around the world are notable only for their silence on the issue of Gilad’s captivity. Human rights activist Yelena Bonner spoke in 2009 at the Oslo Freedom Forum about Israel and Gilad. Of her colleagues, she asked:
Why doesn’t the fate of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit bother you in the same way as the fate of the Guantanamo prisoners? He is a wounded soldier, and should fall under the protection of the Geneva Conventions.
Concluding her speech, she said:
Returning to my question of why human rights activists are silent, I can find no answer except that Shalit is an Israeli soldier, Shalit is a Jew.
Gilad’s continued captivity by Hamas mirrors how all Israelis are, in a sense, captive to the demands of that terrorist organisation. How can an Israeli family feel safe and free knowing that, less than an hour’s drive away, an organisation exists that is plotting their nation’s demise?
Australia must not be complacent in its support of Israel. Our relationship is built on common democratic values and it must-and I know it will-endure. We cannot stand idly by while Gilad is denied freedom. We must not look the other way as this fundamental injustice continues. Staff Sergeant Gilad Shalit is no longer just another soldier; he is a symbol in Israel-a symbol for Israeli families; a symbol for Israeli parents; a symbol of the hopes of Israelis that Gilad, like the nation itself, can be truly free and secure. I hope that the Australian people will stand with Israel in support of a son, as we know the Israelis would for an Australian in a similar circumstance.
Gilad Shalit must be freed.