Gilad Shalit: counting the time theyre gone

There was an amazing news item on Channel 4 News this week. It was a film of a Taliban compound in Afghanistan. Amongst other stuff it had a stunning “film within a film” (“supplied to us by the Taliban themselves”, said C4’s Alex Thomson) showing what seemed to be an actual Taliban attack unfolding.

What was gripping/horrifying was the way that you saw these men virtually strolling around even as they were blasting off huge rocket-propelled grenades.

And the other thing was – as C4 said itself – was the risk factor in getting the report. There’s a distinct danger of being kidnapped if you try to set up interviews with one of the world’s most lethal and unpredictable armed groups.

Ok, so that’s the theme here. Being taken and held prisoner by an armed group is just one (unimaginably horrific) way of looking at the issue.

‘Disappearance’ (much posted on here recently), hostage-taking, ‘ghost’ imprisonment, kidnapping, unlawful confinement – the particulars and definitions vary. But we’re generally talking about powerful individuals or groups, almost certainly armed and with a goal of some sort (money, political demand, the extraction of information), subjecting someone else to an unspeakable experience.

Alan Johnston, Norman Kember and Ingrid Betancourt (to take just three quick examples) all survived their ordeals; and so have scores of prisoners in the “war on terror” who were made to “disappear” for long periods. But at what personal cost it’s hard to imagine.

And then, of course, there have been countless cases of people killed. This Wikipedia site has a (depressingly long) list of foreign nationals abducted in Iraq alone. A lot, like Margaret Hassan and Kenneth Bigley, were eventually killed.

The capture by an armed Palestinian group of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit is yet another compelling case.

Shalit is just one of several Israeli soldiers who’ve been taken hostage there of course. Lately there have been renewed – if stalled, according to Haaretz this morning – negotiations to try to get him released as part of a “prisoner swap” deal. With hundreds of Palestinians held in administrative detention in Israel the likelihood is that some of these – or a mixture of these and convicted prisoners – could be swapped for Shalit.

Meanwhile, his family are struggling to make contact with him and ensure that he’s at least treated humanely. Amnesty’s supporting them over these calls. We’ve written to the Jewish Chronicle this week and Amnesty’s Israel/Occupied Territories researcher is attending the “Walk For Gilad” event in central London this Sunday.

Have a look at the “walking” website – it’s really moving and well worth supporting. The site has one of those incredibly poignant clocks, counting every day, hour, minute and second that Shalit’s been missing in real time.

When I wrote this post it was 817 days, 7 hours and 53 minutes.  By the time you read this, the clock will have counted higher….


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