Thursday, November 23, 2023 is celebrated in the United States as the holiday of Thanksgiving. We would certainly have had a lot to be thankful for on that day, if Hamas had actually abided by its deal to release dozens of Israeli hostages, something that could not be taken for granted when it comes to a murderous terrorist organization whose entire reason for being is to commit genocide. In fact, the release has already been postponed to Friday.
On Thanksgiving, Hamas was supposed to release the first group of 50 hostages. If it does so on Friday, children, mothers, and elderly women will be freed from more than a month and a half in the clutches of one of the most barbaric terrorist organizations to ever exist on the face of the Earth.
Moreover, something truly historic will occur if the deal is truly fulfilled in its entirety: The International Committee of the Red Cross will be allowed to visit Israeli hostages in Hamas captivity and provide them with medical assistance.
In 2009, following Operation Cast Lead, the first of what was to become many Hamas-launched wars against Israel from Gaza, my US high school, HAFTR, brought 30 high schoolers from Sderot to New York to offer them a chance to enjoy a vacation and interact with American Jewish students following the trauma of having hundreds of rockets launched at their homes and schools by Hamas.
During their stay, the Sderot students joined us and other Jewish high schools in the New York area for a demonstration outside the Red Cross building in Manhattan to protest the organization’s inaction in the plight of Gilad Shalit, the IDF soldier who was kidnapped in 2006 and who was never visited by the Red Cross or anyone else who could determine his well-being. It had been three years since his kidnapping, and the Red Cross had done nothing in all that time. It wouldn’t be until 2011, the year Shalit was released, that the Red Cross would issue a statement calling for proof that he was even still alive.
During this rally, I led the students in chanting “Do your job” at the Red Cross. I yelled those three words so much that I lost my voice by the end of the rally.
Because when it comes to the human rights of Israelis, the Red Cross has never done its job.
After Gilad Shalit, Hamas would go on to take more Israelis hostages. During Operation Protective Edge in 2014, which was sparked by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, the terrorist organization stole the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul. It has also held hostage Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayad, two Israeli civilians, since 2014 and 2015, respectively.
Again the Red Cross was nowhere to be seen. Despite repeated pleas from their families, the organization has been silent on the plight of these civilians, who remain in Hamas captivity to this day. It has never once visited them as it visits mass murderers in Israeli prisons.
While it is unlikely that Hamas would have permitted visits to Gilad Shalit, Avera Mengistu, and Hisham al-Sayad, the Red Cross could have exerted pressure on Hamas for all these years and brought international attention to its myriad human rights abuses. But that would have required the Red Cross to do its job instead of joining the anti-Israel NGO chorus. There was apparently no time for protecting the human rights of Israelis and Jews after peddling the blood libel of the fake Jenin massacre in 2002 or criticizing Israel’s responses to the taking of its citizens hostage.
For nearly 60 years, the Red Cross refused to admit Israel’s Magen David Adom as a member, denying its staff ambulances the protections granted to Red Cross affiliates under international law. It was only in 2006 that this injustice was finally corrected.
The Red Cross’ dereliction of duty when it comes to the human rights of Jews and Israelis has been so blatant that an Israeli rabbi, Avidan Freedman, announced a hunger strike in an effort to get the organization to visit the 240 people who were kidnapped on October 7.
The current deal proves what a failure the Red Cross has been in protecting the human rights of Israelis. Hamas has agreed to release 50 hostages, while in exchange Israel will release about 150 terrorists from prison. This is the result of the pressure of Israel’s military campaign, and is a far cry from the 1,027 terrorists who were exchanged for just one Israeli in the deal which freed Gilad Shalit. Yahya Sinwar, the leader of Hamas in Gaza and one of the masterminds of the October 7 massacre, was one of the terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands who was freed in that lopsided deal.
-Had the Red Cross done its job from 20006-2011, Gilad Shalit might have been freed earlier and at a much lower cost.
-Had the Red Cross applied actual pressure on Hamas and drawn attention to its human rights abuses, Sinwar might not have been free to plan the massacre of 1,200 people and create the current hostage crisis.
-And had the Red Cross done its job in protecting the human rights of the residents of Gaza instead of joining those who just use the suffering of Gazans as an excuse to attack Israel, it would have drawn attention to Hamas’ use of human shields, its digging of tunnels and storage of weapons in hospitals, its repression of its own people, and its executions.
In 2015, then-International Committee of the Red Cross President Peter Maurer said at an event marking 70 years since the liberation of the Nazi death camps that “The ICRC failed to protect civilians and, most notably, the Jews persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime. It failed as a humanitarian organization because it lost its moral compass.”
At that same event, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder stated that the Red Cross “chose silence” during the Holocaust, joining the global chorus of indifference which allowed the Nazis to murder six million Jews.
In modern times, the Red Cross has again failed to protect civilians, it has again failed as a humanitarian organization because it has lost its moral compass, it again chose silence when Jews and Israelis were targeted for extermination.
It has failed to do its job.
But now there is an opportunity for the Red Cross to regain its moral compass and to begin to do right by the Jewish people. Thanks to Israel’s military pressure, for the first time, it will be able to visit Israelis held captive by Hamas, to speak with them and ensure that their medical needs and human rights are being cared for.
If the Red Cross is to avoid repeating the mistakes it made during the Holocaust and which it has repeatedly made in the 17 years since Gilad Shalit was first kidnapped, it cannot be satisfied with one visit to the hostages.
The Red Cross has to continue visiting the hostages for as long as Hamas holds them captive.
The Red Cross has to publicize the plight of the nearly 200 hostages who will remain in Hamas captivity even after the current deal is completed and exert enormous pressure on Hamas to release every last hostage, including Avera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayad, and the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.
The Red Cross must realize that Hamas is a genocidal terrorist organization which has no respect whatsoever for human life, human rights, and international law and which seeks to finish the job the Nazis started, and begin treating it accordingly.
And if Hamas breaks its commitment to finally allow the Red Cross to visit its hostages or stops those visits, the Red Cross must respond with all of its strength, all of its credibility as the world’s premiere human rights organization. Because if it does not, it will lose what credibility it has left.
Will the Red Cross seize this opportunity to finally do its job where Jews and Israelis are concerned? If past and recent history is anything to go by, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
And if the Red Cross fails as it has so many times before to rise to the challenge to protect the human rights of Jews and Israelis, we must all tell them the same words the same words I shouted at that rally 14 years ago: “Do your job!”