Jerusalem – For the past month, while negotiations progressed between the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the Hamas by means of an Egyptian government mediator, Mr. Olmert repeated on every possible occasion that no agreement would be reached with the Hamas until and unless the Hamas would release captured Israeli POW Gilad Shalit.
Noam Shalit, the father of the Israeli POW, made that clear to this reporter in a chance encounter on Capitol Hill in April.
Yet the interim agreement for a “tahadia” – a lull in fighting – between Israel and Hamas did not result in 1st Sgt. Shalit’s release.
This situation is reminiscent of the statements by the prime minister’s spokespeople during the Lebanon conflict in July and August of 2006, when Mr. Olmert made proclamations to the media after each weekly cabinet meeting that Israel would not make any agreements with the U.N. or with Hezbollah until and unless Hezbollah would release the two Israeli POWs – Goldwasser and Regev. Yet Mr. Olmert agreed to U.N. resolution No. 1701 which halted the fighting after 33 days, without any requirement that Hezbollah free Goldwasser and Regev.
Noam Shalit’s response was immediate.
“At first, I was certain that everything was being done to bring Gilad back. As time passes and nothing happens, I am taking off the gloves,” Noam Shalit stated in a release to the Israeli media, following Mr. Olmert’s agreement with Hamas that did not involve Shalit’s release.
Noam went on to tell the Israeli media that: “Regrettably, no official source updated me as to the details. I hear everything from the media. In the meantime, there is an Israeli version, an Egyptian version and a Palestinian version, which are different. I have no expectations. Is this a government? It’s a banana republic.”
Mr. Shalit did not conceal his ongoing frustration with the the Israeli governments:
“On the first day of the kidnapping, instead of seeing how to resolve the crisis quickly, Olmert made statements about what he wouldn’t do. Only at the end of August 2006, after the end of the war, did he appoint a professional figure to handle the matter and conduct the negotiations. We were recently surprised to discover that Ofer Dekel was dealing with the matter of the POWs as a part-time job. I don’t understand why the State of Israel doesn’t dedicate a full-time job to this issue.
“Declarations by politicians such as ‘we are doing everything for their release’ and ‘there isn’t a day that we are not dealing with this’ have become empty of content as far as I am concerned. If we sit at home and wait for the politicians to do the job, we’ll have to wait a long time.”
Mr. Shalit also attacked the Israeli defense minister: “From Ehud Barak I get nothing except a vague hemming and hawing and an empathic glance. He tries to stay as ambiguous as possible. We always leave meetings with him with a question mark, asking ourselves what actually went on in the meeting. No politician, who today is a decision-maker and tomorrow may be an ordinary citizen or sitting on the defendants’ bench, has the moral right to decide the fate of an IDF combatant who has fallen into captivity. Arik Sharon understood this on the matter of Tannenbaum.
“We are told that Gilad is Hamas’s insurance certificate, and this is shocking because where he is to be found, he has no insurance. We told the prime minister that if we don’t pay the price for his release now, we will have to pay to bring back his body. It is clear to me that the decision-makers would prefer for the families of the POWs to sit quietly and let them handle things, with the usual ‘trust me’ system, but for me this ‘trust’ hasn’t existed for a long time. In 1973, when my twin brother was killed, we already saw what happens when you rely on politicians and leaders.”
On the background of this bitter reality, Noam Shalit has decided to petition the Israeli High Court of Justice against the tahadia agreement.
Through their lawyers, Stein, the Shalit family has made a formal legal complaint against Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni a letter entitled: “Violation of your duty to achieve the release of 1st Sgt. Gilad Shalit.”
In their formal legal complaint, the Shalit family formally charges that the Israeli government of Israel has cheated them, and they demand from Mr. Olmert and other senior ministers clarification of the tahadia agreement, and say that they retain the right to petition the High Court of Justice within 48 hours.
“The failure to include release of Gilad Shalit in the ‘tahadia’ agreement constitutes a flagrant violation by the leaders of the state of all the commitments that were given to our clients (the Shalit family), including commitments given even in the past few days, at the latest meeting with the prime minister and in a conversation with his military secretary, and of statements made to the ministerial committee on defense-statements which formed the basis for the committee’s decision,” the lawyers wrote in their letter.
“The position of the State of Israel endangers the life of Gilad Shalit,” the letter goes on to say, “and there is a high probability that in the wake of the opening of the Rafah crossing-point, with no supervision by the State of Israel, the possibility of securing his release in the future will be prevented. The economic boycott served as the main lever for pressure on Hamas, including pressure to release Gilad Shalit. Yet lo and behold, Israel is giving up this lever without ensuring the safe return of Gilad Shalit to Israel. Moreover, opening of the Rafah crossing point to traffic, before the release of Gilad has been ensured, could lead to his being smuggled out of the Gaza Strip.
“Here too the parallel with the case of Ron Arad is conspicuous.”
Noam Shalit fears that the release of his son will turn into an endless saga, but, as he put it yesterday: “We have learned the lesson of the Arad family. We don’t want it to take many years.”
Ron Arad was an Israeli pilot shot down over Lebanon in October 1986 and taken captive by the Hezbollah. He was transferred to Iran and is now presumed dead.
Noam Shalit sent a copy of the letter to the attorney general, with a request that he examine whether the decision of the security cabinet that the tahadia will include the release of Gilad, is reconcilable with the tahadia agreement which came into force this morning.
In other words, Mr. Shalit is asking the Israeli attorney general Meni Mazuz to check whether “the agreement which is taking shape can be reconciled with the statements made to the ministerial committee on defense.”
Noam Shalit said on Wednesday to to the Israeli Ma’ariv newspaper: “Up until this moment nobody has updated me. I did not hear the prime minister in his speech, and I don’t know what he said, but I know that nobody updated me on any particular. I am still waiting for clarifications from official sources. All I know is that we have gone through two years and Gilad is still not at home.”
Mr. Olmert’s bureau said in response: “The Prime Minister’s Bureau respects the Shalit family and the decision. We have no desire to conduct a public debate on the issue, nor any interest [in doing so].”
Meanwhile, the prime minister himself spoke about the issue on Wednesday, saying that “The release of Gilad Shalit constitutes an integral part of the understandings on the conditions of the tahadia [The agreement for a lull in fighting],” Mr. Olmert said. “Next week two years will have passed since his abduction. His picture is on my desk, in front of me. I look him in the eye every day and make every possible effort so that it will be possible to bring Gilad Shalit back to his parents and to the rest of his family, safe and well. I believe that as part of the understanding which made the tahadia possible, we will be able to bring the return of Gilad closer.”
The prime minister’s popularity rating hovers at 5-10 percent.
His credibility in the Israeli public is therefore not taken seriously.
David Bedein can be reached at email@example.com. His Web site is www.IsraelBehindTheNews.com
©The Bulletin 2008