Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, asked the United Nations Human Rights Commission on Monday to recognize the kidnapping of his son as a war crime and call for his immediate return. Referring to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh's welcoming remarks to the commission's investigating team, in which Haniyeh deplored what he viewed as Israel's grave violations of international law during this past winter's Operation Cast Lead, the older Shalit said, "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."

Activists call for Shalit's release

Noam Shalit continued, "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."

Shalit cited the prohibition in the Geneva Convention of 1949 and the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court on holding someone for ransom. He noted that those laws are often cited by people who would prosecute Israeli leaders.

Reminding the commission that he was not representing the State of Israel, he presented the following brief picture of his son: "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."

Turning to the residents of Gaza, Shalit said of his son, "He was not attacking your territory. He was not even in your territory. He was operating within the sovereign territory of the State of Israel - protecting the integrity of what was supposed to be a border of peace after a complete Israeli withdrawal.

"Your leaders say Gilad is a prisoner of war. I say he is an abductee. The difference is in the interpretation of the law. But even if your leaders hold my son as a prisoner of war - why will they not allow him the privileges which attach to such a status? Gilad has no contact with the outside world. Your leaders refuse him access to the International Committee of the Red Cross - the same Red Cross which regularly visits your people held captive in Israeli prisons. The same Red Cross which protests the violations of their rights to the Israeli government."

"Your leaders have committed a crime with respect to my son. They hold him to ransom and, by the same token, they hold all of you to ransom. For three years now, you have been held hostage to the inflexible demands of your leaders and their unwillingness to compromise. They issue demands which, I fear, the Israeli Government will never meet. My son's fate is the means through which your leaders distract your attention from the destruction they have brought upon you. Is this humane? Are these the acts of an honorable regime?

People of Gaza - Do not ignore the root cause of our mutual suffering. You know that the injustice done to my son was the trigger for war. You also know that the release of my son is the key to peace and the lifting of the Israeli commercial blockade. A small gesture and a little effort on both sides can relieve the misery of many."

Shalit concluded with a message for his son's captors: "I urge you to release my son. You have the power to act with grace. Do it for the respectability that you wish the international community to accord you. Do it because you see yourselves as statesmen acting with humane intent. Do it for the sake of the respect you say you show this Mission. Do it not for gain but do it, I beg you, because it is the just and right thing to do. But most important of all, do it for the peace and welfare of your own people."

Other Israelis who testified to the commission included Ashkelon Mayon Benny Vaknin and Sderot spokesman Noam Bedein. The two described the trauma that Hamas’ rocket barrages caused to residents in Israel’s Negev.