newsIsrael at War

Israeli NGO files $2.8 million suit against Red Cross

Human rights group Shurat HaDin accuses the Geneva-based ICRC of delaying action after Hamas's Oct.7 massacre and failing to visit the captives or deliver medical assistance.

A Hamas terrorist releases Israeli hostages to the Red Cross, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: Flash90.
A Hamas terrorist releases Israeli hostages to the Red Cross, in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, Nov. 28, 2023. Credit: Flash90.

Israeli rights organization Shurat HaDin on Thursday announced the filing of a 10 million shekel (nearly $2.8 million) lawsuit on behalf of 24 plaintiffs against the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Filed in the Jerusalem District Court, the lawsuit accuses the Geneva-based ICRC of delaying action in the aftermath of Hamas’s Oct.7 massacre, and failing to visit or provide medical assistance to the hostages held by the terrorist group.

“We are seeking a court order to compel the ICRC to visit the hostages, supervise their situation, ensure that they are alive and not being tortured and raped, as well as to provide them with medicine,” Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the president of Shurat HaDin, told JNS.

According to the lawsuit, the ICRC holds a unique position and mandate under international humanitarian law. This status gives it certain prerogatives but also carries with it the obligation to act with due diligence in cases such the Hamas hostage crisis. According to the ICRC’s guidelines, the captives being held in Gaza are recognized as being among the most vulnerable “protected persons” in need of its help.

On Saturday, Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the president of the ICRC, said that Israel must accommodate Hamas’s demands before her organization can get access to the captives.

“Now, Israel has to negotiate with Hamas using an intermediary, which in this case is Qatar,” said Spoljaric. “They have to reach an agreement so that we are informed where the hostages are, because we currently don’t know. That’s the simple fact,” she said.

While in Israel on Dec. 14, Spoljaric met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog, who both reiterated their demand that the ICRC step up pressure on Hamas.

“There have never been scenarios in which the ICRC did not care for one side of a conflict, except for situations in which Israeli hostages were involved, including Gilad Shalit who for five years sat in captivity, as well as Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul,” said Darshan-Leitner.

Shalit was released as part of a 2011 deal with Hamas that saw Israel free 1,027 Palestinian security prisoners, many with blood on their hands. Among the terrorists freed in that exchange was Yahya Sinwar, the current head of Hamas in Gaza.

Hamas has been holding the bodies of Goldin and Shaul since they were killed in the Gaza Strip during the 2014 war (“Operation Protective Edge”).

The terrorist group has also been holding civilians Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed for nearly a decade, both of whom are believed to suffer from mental illness and crossed into Gaza of their own volition. 

“This goes back to the Holocaust, during which the ICRC refrained from visiting the Jewish victims in concentration camps because they saw it as an internal German problem,” added Darshan-Leitner. 

The ICRC recognizes on its official website the organization’s failure “to help and protect the millions of people who were exterminated in the death camps and most notably the Jews persecuted and murdered by the Nazi regime,” calling it “the greatest failure in the history of the ICRC.”

Sarah Davies, a spokesperson for the ICRC in Israel and the Palestinian territories, told JNS that the organization is “very pained and frustrated not to have access to the hostages held by Hamas.

“We have been able to facilitate the release of 109 hostages and we reiterate our call and continue the effort to reach those who are still in Gaza,” she added.

“Our president flew to Qatar to meet Hamas’s chief,” Davies noted. “We are in constant dialogue with Israel and state governments who could influence it. A lot of this work does take place with parties of the conflict and behind closed doors.”

One hundred and five hostages were released late last month as part of a weeklong ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas; another 129 hostages remain in Gaza, nearly two dozen of whom are believed to be dead.

Darshan-Leitner told JNS that she has called on the Israeli government not to allow the ICRC to visit Hamas terrorists jailed in Israel until the Islamist group allows the ICRC to visit Israeli hostages.

Last week, Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch revealed that the ICRC was facilitating payments by the Palestinian Authority to imprisoned terrorists, a practice called “pay for slay.”

According to PMW, the Red Cross has been providing the terrorists with the paperwork to fill out to receive the stipends and then delivering the documents to Ramallah. As such, Leitner said that banning ICRC visits could upend the system.

Adding fuel to the fire, the ICRC announced on Friday the appointment of Pierre Krahenbuhl, a former head of the controversial United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA), which Israel has accused of perpetuating the conflict by extending refugee status to millions of descendants of Palestinians who fled during the 1948 war. The agency has also been accused of employing Hamas members, spreading antisemitism in its schools and of allowing its buildings in Gaza to be transformed into launching pads for terror attacks on the Jewish state.

“That the Red Cross is dealing with Hamas, a ruthless enemy that does not abide by any rules or norms of international law, does not absolve the organization of its mandate to provide humanitarian protection and assistance for victims of armed conflict,” Arsen Ostrovsky, a human rights attorney and CEO of the Israel-based International Legal Forum, told JNS. 

”Nor is it enough to merely politely call for their release,” he added. 

Ostrovsky emphasized that the United States, the single largest state donor to the ICRC with a contribution of almost $700 million in 2022, should be pressing the organization.

“These are questions every donor to the Red Cross ought to be asking,” said Ostrovsky. “The Red Cross should also be confronted with the irrefutable evidence pointing to Hamas using hospitals in Gaza as terrorist bases right under the nose of the organization.”

Alan Baker, a former legal adviser to Israel’s Foreign Ministry and presently director of legal program at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, agreed that the ICRC should be pulling every lever to pressure Hamas.

“They can’t just accept Hamas’s refusal to cooperate, they have to use their influence,” Baker, a former ambassador to Canada, told JNS. 

Indeed, he said that one of the objectives of Shurat Hadin’s lawsuit could be to press the ICRC to act.

“If a captive dies as a result of the fact that the ICRC didn’t provide medicine, there could be grounds for damages,” he said.

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