First published: 10.12.2008 

It has been almost 900 days since the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, was captured by Palestinian armed factions from Gaza. To date, the ICRC’s attempts to visit him and to establish contact between him and his family have been unsuccessful. Pierre Wettach, the ICRC’s head of delegation in Israel and the occupied territories, explains.

What has the ICRC been doing to gain access to Gilad Shalit and find out what happened to him?

First, let me express once again our deep sympathy with Gilad Shalit’s family. Because ICRC delegates around the world are in regular contact with families in similar situations waiting for news of their loved ones, we are acutely aware of the distress and anger they feel.

Since Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian armed factions on 25 June 2006, we have been working hard to obtain access to him. We have repeatedly reminded those holding him of their legal oblig ations, calling on them both publicly and through our direct contacts to treat him humanely.

The ICRC has repeatedly asked to be allowed to visit Gilad Shalit and to convey family messages to him. In early November, the ICRC requested that Hamas forward to him thousands of letters and greeting cards from various organizations, individuals and schoolchildren. Unfortunately, all these requests have been refused.

Although our attempts have so far been unsuccessful, we will continue to do everything we can to obtain information on Gilad Shalit’s condition, to gain direct access to him, and to establish contact between him and his family. We would like to meet him in private to make an independent assessment of the conditions he is held in and of his state of health.

What concrete action has the ICRC taken so far?

The issue is continuously raised at high-level meetings with Hamas. We are pursuing dialogue with all those concerned, as we believe that is essential for achieving progress. We have to talk to those who hold a person’s fate in their hands in order to be able to help that person.

We have also maintained regular contact with Gilad Shalit’s family. We inform them, and the authorities concerned, about what we have done. Last summer, his parents Noam and Aviva Shalit shared their thoughts and emotions in an interview that was posted on our website.

What problems does the ICRC face in its work on behalf of Gilad Shalit and other detainees and missing people?

There are limits to what we can do and to what international humanitarian law entitles us to do when it comes to visiting people in detention or to finding out what happened to people who go missing in an armed conflict.

In the case of Gilad Shalit, we deplore the fact that political considerations have outweighed humanitarian concerns, and respect for basic humanitarian principles, making it virtually impossible to help him or his family.

As a humanitarian organization, we have limited leverage in these matters. All we can do is to remind those who control the situation of their obligation to act in accordance with the spirit and letter of international humanitarian law. The parties to an armed conflict, be they States or non-State groups, have to uphold the law.