In December 2008, Israel launched a three-week assault on Gaza, ostensibly to reclaim Shalit and demolish Hamas. Neither objective was achieved, although one-fifth of Gaza was demolished and more than 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed. The United Nations Human Rights Council appointed a commission to investigate instances of atrocities and war crimes on both sides. Hamas collaborated. Israel did not. The result was the so-called Goldstone Report.
As commissioners conducted their investigations, they called for testimonies from Israelis, Palestinians and others. Among those testifying was Noam, Shalit, Gilad's father. Noam Shalit took the opportunity to address the people of Gaza and Hamas militants directly. The following is his complete testimony, delivered in Geneva on July 9, 2009.
Testimony of Noam Shalit to the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict
Geneva, 6 July 2009
My name is Noam Schalit and I am the father of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit.
Honorable members of the Mission - I thank you for giving me the opportunity to address you today. I thank you, also, for allowing me to make my testimony public. I know that this Mission is determined to give the victims of the recent conflict in Gaza an opportunity to make their voice heard. So - with your kind permission - I would like to use this distinguished forum - the United Nations - first to address you and then to address the people of Gaza and, in particular, the people holding my son Gilad.
Honorable Members of the Mission, a few weeks ago you were in Gaza. You met the Hamas hierarchy. According to the Ma’an news agency - Mr. Ismail Haniyya welcomed your mission deploring what he viewed as Israel’s grave violations of international law. The same news agency reported that the Mission thanked Mr. Haniyya for his cooperation in facilitating its work. Sirs and Madam, if this cooperation is indeed genuine then the same HAMAS hierarchy should honor your eventual findings - whatever they may be.
A War Crime
And I have no doubt that after you read my written submissions, you will determine that my son’s violent abduction and his continuing detention subject to extortion is, equally, a violation of international law. After you hear the cassette recording of my son’s voice - released on the first anniversary of his capture - you will be shocked by the callous cynicism of his captors and the grief that his words have caused me and my family. These are words that he was forced to read. You will also find, without a doubt, that the refusal to allow him access to the Red Cross, if not a war crime is, at least, a gross act of inhumanity and an aggravating circumstance.
Members of the Mission - The same Geneva Convention of 1949 which this Mission will use to judge the legality of the Israeli attack on Gaza forbids the holding to ransom of an individual - whether he be soldier or otherwise. The same Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court by which the Palestinian Authority seeks to charge the Israeli hierarchy condemns the HAMAS leadership no less for the crime of taking hostages - soldiers or otherwise. The same court in The Hague where the Palestinian Authority pursues Mr. Olmert may equally investigate Mr. Masha’al who - with his Jordanian nationality - falls squarely within the jurisdiction of this institution.
But what is the purpose of this honorable Mission? Is it really to lay the basis for a future criminal prosecution? Or is it, perhaps, to effect reconciliation? Know that the minds and hearts of the Israeli people are with my son on a daily basis. His release - which it is within your power to promote - will bring about such reconciliation.
To the People of Gaza
And now, with you permission, I would like to address the Palestinian victims of Operation Cast Lead.
People of Gaza, I do not come before this Mission as a representative of the Israeli State. I come neither to condemn nor to justify the recent Israeli operations in Gaza. I am not a politician nor do I care for politics. I am a civilian and the father of three.
I last saw my son Gilad on Wednesday 21 June 2006 when he returned to the military service which his country obliged him to perform by law. A few days later, his patrol was sabotaged by armed Palestinians, two of his fellow soldiers were killed before his very eyes and he was abducted. He was nineteen years old at the time. A shy boy with a nervous smile and a studious disposition. Like many his age, all that occupied him were his studies and sport. To all those who know him, he is gentle and sensitive to the suffering of others - a trait he has shown from an early age. At the age of 11, his teacher asked him to write a fable. His drawings and narrative have now been published. I am giving the Mission a copy of this book. You can read it if you wish. The story of a shark and a fish who became friends against all the odds. Need I say more? Suffice to say that the will for peace and security can overcome fear and distrust.