And, of course, what aggravates the anguish is the fact that nobody knows precisely where or in what conditions this poor young man is being held. In contravention of the Geneva Convention, the unpitying hard men of Hamas have allowed him no Red Cross visits, no contact with the outside world of any kind. Even the avowed humanitarians of the flotilla-bound Free Gaza Movement spurned a request from his father to take a letter and parcel to Gilad.
It seems some western pro-Palestinian activists are ill-informed regarding the circumstances in which Gilad Shalit was captured, and what he has had to endure, and that some treat it as a sort of joke. This description of a meeting hosted by a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign group in Wales (hat tip: Yvetta on the JC.Com Blogs) gives some indication of the ignorance, indifference and inhumanity that can be encountered. The meeting described revolved around Rod Cox’s exhibition of children’s paintings from Gaza, about which I blogged when that exhibition reached Manchester Cathedral. Writes Yvetta:
‘Cox spoke of “resistance fighters”, never of “terrorists”, and ... I asked him politely what outcome he would like to see. Perhaps sensing a trap by one of those “Zionist bastards” (to use a phrase on his website), he demurred.... “One State?” I prodded. “Or Two?” He still demurred. “I’ve heard the phrase ‘Palestine must be Free from the River to the Sea’”, I persisted, asking whether that was the view of the group. The speaker, his affability vanished in a flash, told me I was impertinent. A nuggety old guy in the front row fixed me with a wild-eyed stare and shouted at me to “Shut up!” “Some of us want one state, some want two!” cried somebody else. Turning round in her seat to eyeball me, the head of the local PSC – who according to one of her frequent anti-Israel letters to the local press would appear to be halachically Jewish – made an emotional denunciation of the Balfour Declaration and declared that injustice towards “Palestine” had been ignored for 100 years. A posh-voiced man told me that before any political solution could be worked out Israel would have to stop all its “human rights abuses” and obey the UN and the Geneva Convention.’Yvetta continues:
‘It was then that I pointed out that in defiance of the Geneva Convention Hamas has held Gilad Shalit for four years with no Red Cross visits. “Who’s Gilad Shalit?” somebody demanded. I explained, reminding them what an eternity four years is when you are his age. “Why do you use the word ‘kidnapped’?” asked the speaker [Cox] irritably. Again, I explained. There were rumbles of laughter among my fellow-audience members. “He’s a soldier!” scoffed the PSC head. “A PoW!” added the speaker, grinning. “A PoW who has been treated like no PoW under the Geneva Convention” I continued, pointing out that the Free Gaza Movement had reportedly refused to deliver a letter and package from his family. The audience broke out into peals of prolonged mirth. At that point I swept up my belongings and regained the fresh air, with Cox snarling at me that they'd been more tolerant with me that "the Zionists" would be with them.’This week, in the London Daily Telegraph ( 25 August), Bran Keenan, seized in 1986 by Islamic Jihad in Lebanon and held for not so long as Gilad Shalit has been held by Hamas, recalled his ordeal:
‘I was blindfolded and kept in the dark for a large period of my four and a half years’ incarceration in Beirut. I would wake up not knowing whether it was day or night. The darkness was palpable. You could touch it with your fingers. I wondered in that blackness: how do they know I’m alive. How do I know? .... Your self-awareness is swallowed up in the black incubus all around you. You may hear moaning or screaming or swearing, but you are gone. You question your own existence. You have no point of reference without being able to see another’s face.’Furthermore:
'I had no contact with the outside world. The only sound I heard was the call to prayer. If someone is communicating with you, the confinement seems less. At least for a while. Once the reality hits - that liberation might not come - strange things happen inside the body, brain, and mind. When you are trapped, or in captivity, "mind time" is totally different from ordinary time. It is out of time. It has no structure. That is the struggle. Strategies to "kill time", which I often tried, are absurd and don't work.'Is that the situation in which young Gilad Shalit finds himself? Does he realise it’s his birthday? Does he know how old he is? Wishing him “Happy Birthday” seems trite and futile. But for pity’s sake, may he be liberated soon.