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Op-eds

Missing Israeli soldiers an international outrage

  • JTAOpEdHamas1
(JTA) This week marks five years since an Israeli soldier, lieutenant Hadar Goldin, was killed by Hamas in the midst of a ceasefire during Operation Protective Edge.
by ARSEN OSTROVSKY | Aug 15, 2019

On 1 August 2014, hours after the ceasefire went into effect, Hamas terrorists emerged from a tunnel in Gaza, ambushed an Israel Defense Forces unit, and killed Goldin, who was only 23. Hamas took his body, and has been holding it hostage in Gaza, treating it contemptuously as a bargaining chip, and an instrument with which to torment his family.

Hamas is also keeping the remains of another Israeli soldier killed that summer, Oron Shaul, who was only 20. To this day, Hamas refuses even to grant the International Committee of the Red Cross access to their remains.

In June, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 2474, which calls upon parties to armed conflict to take all appropriate measures, to actively search, account for, and return the remains of all persons reported missing “without adverse distinction” and “consistent with applicable obligations under international humanitarian law and human-rights law”.

Holding the bodies of soldiers killed in action, and refusing their return to their next of kin for burial, is a flagrant and indisputable violation of the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law, as is wantonly using the soldiers’ bodies as bargaining chips and intentionally withholding information about missing persons, which Hamas continues to do.

The bodies of Goldin and Shaul must be returned to Israel for proper burial immediately, unconditionally, and without reservation.

It isn’t surprising that Hamas, a fanatical Iran-funded, Islamist terrorist organisation that uses children as human shields and aims rockets at Israeli civilians, doesn’t abide by international law. But what about the commitment of the international community to uphold these fundamental and inalienable principles?

The United States has seemingly been the sole voice to take up this humanitarian cause.

Last week, Goldin’s parents met in Berlin with the US ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell, who called for the immediate repatriation of his body while urging those who fund United Nations Palestinian programmes to “demand action”. Nikki Haley, the former US ambassador to the UN has also taken up the cause of Goldin, both during her time at the UN and afterwards. Jason Greenblatt, the Trump administration’s point man on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, has raised the matter repeatedly during international gatherings.

Regrettably, however, there has been almost callous indifference from the rest of the international community - especially the European Union.

In April 2018, the European Parliament overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling on Hamas to return to Israel the remains of Goldin and Shaul (as well as civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed). But the EU has barely paid lip service to its own resolution by failing to apply it and call on the Palestinian leadership to release the Israelis.

Even just this past week, with explosive revelations of mass corruption and ethics breaches at UNRWA, the United Nations’ aid agency for Palestinians, most of the EU has continued with business as usual, serving as an ATM to the leadership of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (PA). In 2018, it provided a total of $415 million (R6.3 billion) in aid, including to Gaza, the Palestinian Authority, and UNRWA.

Although it is Hamas that is directly responsible for the killing, abduction, and captivity of Goldin, we must also not overlook the legal responsibility of the PA led by Mahmoud Abbas.

The PA, which accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court over alleged crimes committed since 13 June 2014, could be deemed liable under international law for the ongoing crimes carried out by Hamas, including failure to act to bring about the release of Hadar and the other captive Israelis.

However, instead of holding the PA accountable, the EU continues to underwrite the Palestinian Authority’s “pay to slay” programme, incentivising and contributing funds to the PA’s payment of salaries to Palestinian terrorists and their families.

As long as the EU fails to abide by its own principles, as well as commitments under international law and the resolutions of its own parliament, it will continue to de facto aid and abet Hamas in the perpetuation of this grave crime and abuse of international humanitarian law.

Likewise, the UN, under whose auspices the ceasefire was enacted, therefore also bears moral and legal responsibility for Hadar’s capture and return. The UN must uphold its charter and security council resolution in demanding the immediate and unconditional release of his remains and all captive Israelis.

It’s time the international community showed it is prepared to uphold the sacrosanct principles of international humanitarian law, and that Israeli lives matter, too.

  • Arsen Ostrovsky is an international human rights lawyer and an adviser to the Goldin family.

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