U.N. Security Council members criticized Hamas on Dec. 22 for violating international law and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by withholding the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and by holding two Israeli civilians hostage without releasing any information about their condition.
Avera Mengistu, an Israeli Jew from Ethiopia, wandered into the Gaza Strip in September 2014. Hisham al-Sayed, an Israeli Bedouin, crossed the same border the next year. Both suffer from mental health problems; neither has been seen by family members or by representatives of nongovernmental organizations such as the Red Cross since being taken by Hamas.
One of the two dead soldiers, Oron Shaul, was killed during the Gaza war in July 2014; the other, Hadar Goldin, was the victim of a tunnel-launched raid into Israel two hours after a U.N.-brokered cease-fire went into effect Aug. 1 that year.
“It was a cynical and coldblooded violation of all the principles that this institution holds dear,” Leah Goldin, the mother of Hadar Goldin, told the Security Council session.
“Our son was not a victim of the war, but a victim of the cease-fire,” she said.
Goldin complained that the Palestinian violation has not produced an expression of collective U.N. outrage or any efforts by countries other than Israel to bring her son’s body home. To the contrary, an international aid conference later in 2014 pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza.
Goldin urged the United Nations to make it clear that reconstruction funding is not unconditional. “People of faith all over the world understand it is wrong to hold the bodies of fallen soldiers.”
Still, the special, informal session represented a rare public occasion of broad U.N. support for Israel even though it was held the day after the U.N. General Assembly voted 128-9 with 35 abstentions to condemn U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Among the dozen-plus speakers at a session attended by representatives of more than 35 nations, only the Swedish delegate deflected some of the scorn aimed at Hamas back toward Israel. He blamed Israel’s closure of Gaza Strip access points for blocking humanitarian groups from visiting the Israeli civilian hostages, and he said the bigger picture of Gaza’s horrible humanitarian situation shouldn’t be ignored.
Ukraine and the United States organized the special session, chaired by Ukrainian Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko, said, ““We will do all it takes, again and again until justice prevails and Hadar and the others taken are returned home to their families.”
Michele Sison, the deputy U.S. permanent representative to the United Nations, called it an “ongoing tragedy” that Hamas holds the bodies and the civilian hostages. She noted that the White House welcomed the Mengistu family in November.
The family met with several U.N. delegations during the same visit to the United States.
Ethiopia’s representative appreciated attention being brought to the case of Mengistu, “a young man of disabilities who didn’t know where he was.”
He called on Hamas to provide access to an organization such as the Red Cross to ensure Mengistu is being treated humanely.
“We are witnessing a critical mass of violations of international humanitarian law,” said former Canadian Attorney General Irwin Cotler, who briefed the session on the legal situation. He said the United Nations must act to show that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is valid after 69 years.
He said the October reconciliation between Hamas and the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority means the PA also is guilty of ongoing violations of international law. Because the PA has joined the International Criminal Court, that court has jurisdiction in Gaza.
Yelchenko agreed with Cotler’s call to action and repeatedly expressed full support for the Goldins and the other Israeli families. He said his nation shares Israel’s pain because 150 Ukrainians are being held hostage in Russia as a result of the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
“Let us put politics aside to achieve this,” he said about returning the captives and the bodies. “I think it is the right thing to do.”