It was a humanitarian gesture of some signficance for French President Nicolas Sarkozy to send a letter to Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who is being held captive in Gaza, expressing solidarity with him and assuring him that France, of which he’s a citizen, is not going to abandon him. Putting to one side the question of where Shalit’s national loyalties lie if he is serving in the Israeli military, it is our right to discuss all aspects of Sarkozy’s message and disclose the magnitude of its hypocrisy and bias, all of which is reflected by Israeli aggression in the occupied Palestinian territories.
It must be remembered that Shalit is not a civilian who was kidnapped; he is a serving soldier in an occupation army who would not hesitate to kill innocent civilians, and he was on active duty at the time of his capture. Shalit’s unit had been ordered to occupy Kerem Shalom, near the city of Rafah.
President Sarkozy’s letter displays his warmth towards French citizens, even when they hold dual nationality and opt to serve in the armed forces of the second – or should that be the first? – nation. It is reasonable to ask, however, if Sarkozy showed similar concern for and wrote letters of support to French detainees of Algerian, Moroccan, Tunisian or African origins being held in Guantanamo Bay, for example, or in European and Asian prisons, and who are mostly civilians. We know what the answer is.
Why, then, does Mr Sarkozy only sympathise with the Israeli soldier Shalit, especially when Israel has arrested a French national of Palestinian origin? The latter did not receive any message from the President of France. Is this because he is an Arab Muslim, and because his captors and tormentors are Israelis, who break international law with impunity?
Let us remind President Sarkozy that around ten thousand Palestinian prisoners languish in Israeli jails, including women and children, some of whom have been behind bars for more than thirty years. Others know nothing other than the prison where they born because their mothers were detained while pregnant; some of those women were shackled to the bed when they gave birth. Many of those detained are held in “administrative detention” without charge, and have been for years.
Were was Sarkozy’s compassion when Israeli aircraft bombed innocent people in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009, using white phosphorus bombs on civilian areas, illegal under international law? More than 1,400 Palestinians, one-third of them children and nearly all civilians, were killed by Israel in three brutal weeks of aggression, and more than 60,000 homes were destroyed, some over the heads of their owners. Did Sarkozy race to the Security Council to get a no-fly zone over the Gaza Strip to prevent Israel’s massacre of Palestinian civilians as he did for Libya? What about when Israel bombed southern Lebanon and the southern suburbs of Beirut for a month in 2006, during which it also committed another massacre in Qana – 28 killed, including 16 children – the scene of much bloodshed when an Israeli artillery shell hit a UN post in which refugees were sheltering in 1996; 106 people were killed on that occasion.
According to President Sarkozy, Shalit’s isolation for the past five years is “a violation of all norms of international law and the most basic humanitarian principles”. He forgot to remind us who had prolonged the incarceration by pulling out of negotiations for his release at the last minute. Shalit’s father himself attests to this failure by Israeli politicians from Sharon to Olmert to Netanyahu.
It would be interesting to know how and why the French President regards the isolation of a soldier captured on active duty as a violation of international law, but the isolation of two million Palestinians under an unjust and immoral siege for more than five years is something to be upheld and supported. Is this an example of the humanity, justice and principles of the French Revolution in which he takes so much pride?
It is not that Shalit is a first-class prisoner while our prisoners are in economy. Nor is he holier than the French national of Arab origin, Salah Hammouri, who is accused of trying to assassinate the ultra right-wing, racist Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. This supposedly learned rabbi regards Arabs as insects to be crushed. His party has several seats in the Israeli parliament propping-up the Netanyahu coalition government which has blocked all agreements for Shalit’s release.
Sarkozy’s humanitarian impulses have not paid any attention to this young Arab other than when his foreign minister visited his parents to balance with his visit to the family of Shalit. Alain Juppe’s predecessor, Michele Alliot-Marie, was pelted with shoes and rotten eggs when she went to Gaza after visiting Shalit’s parents, ignoring the thousands of Palestinian prisoners.The people of Gaza were surely entitled and right to do so.
Such blatant hypocrisy is tiring, as are the striking double standards and bias from Sarkozy and his government towards the crimes of the Israeli state. Israel was built upon, and has maintained a long record of aggression and terrorism and it’s time to tear-up the false “humanitarian” masks and let the true face of French “compassion” be seen.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.