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21 JUL 2024

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The Red Cross Still Hasn’t Visited the Hostages in Gaza. Here’s Why


Red Cross Worker

The main reasons why the Red Cross hasn’t yet visited the hostages captured in Israel and held in Gaza since October 7, 2023 requires understanding what the organization considers its obligations during civilian hostage-taking situations along with the Red Cross’s reaction to the current Gaza hostage crisis, and possibly some historical context.

 

The Basic Facts:


  • On the 7th of October, 2023, 240 hostages were taken from Israel into the Gaza Strip by the terrorist organization Hamas.


  • To date, more than 100 hostages have been released from Gaza.


  • Since the 7th of October, the Red Cross has had no contact with any of the hostages in the territory and made zero visits.


  • However, during the hostage release process, the Red Cross was assigned the role of neutral intermediary. For most of the releases, this meant taking custody of the hostages from Hamas in Gaza before handing them over to the Egyptian authorities at the Rafah Crossing, who then facilitated their release to the Israeli authorities.

 

Due to the large number of civilian hostages remaining in Gaza, (currently believed to be over 130) including children (the youngest just ten months old), their mothers, young non-military men and women as well as several elderly captives, pressure has grown on the Red Cross to secure permission to visit the hostages. This is believed to be critical, in order to determine whether they’re alive, being held in humanitarian conditions, and to ensure they receive the medical treatment and care they may need after 50+ days in captivity.



What Is The Red Cross? What’s Their Responsibility to Civilian Hostages?


The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) describes itself as, “....an impartial, neutral and independent organization whose exclusively humanitarian mission is to protect the lives and dignity of victims of armed conflict and other situations of violence and to provide them with assistance.”


Founded in 1863 by Henry Dunant, who, after working to help soldiers during the 1859 Battle of Solferino, became committed to improving the care given to all victims of war. The Red Cross and Red Crescent organizations currently focus on helping victims of war, as well as people affected by natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies.


The Red Cross has clearly laid out its views on hostage-taking, including:


  • Hostage-taking is a violation of international law which makes hostage-taking an international crime – (Article 34, Fourth Convention; Article 3 common to the Geneva Conventions; Article 75(2c), Additional Protocol I; and Article 4(2c), Additional Protocol II).


  • Requesting the release of any hostages with priority given to children, the injured, and the sick.


However, the organization has also made clear that:


  • “The ICRC can act either at the request of one party and with the explicit consent of the other, or following acceptance by all parties of its offer of services.”


In the current Gaza hostage situation, the Red Cross claims that its role is to act as an intermediary between Hamas and the Israeli authorities, once both parties have agreed on the release and return of the hostages. The organization continues to assert that the plight of the hostages is a top priority for the ICRC and that it will continue to ask for immediate access to those who have been kidnapped.



Why Hasn’t The Red Cross Visited The Hostages In Gaza yet?


The main reason the Red Cross has yet to visit the hostages is that Hamas, the organization holding them, refuses to provide the Red Cross with access.


As part of a cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas–which lasted a week, from the 24th of November until it was broken on the 1st of December 2023–the Red Cross was supposed to be given access to the remaining hostages. The White House, which was involved in the initial negotiations also confirmed this part of the agreement.


Nevertheless, after negotiations broke down between all parties involved, and to date, the Red Cross says without an agreement in place, or consent by Hamas which hasn’t been forthcoming, the humanitarian aid organization claims it cannot act.


The situation is further complicated by the fact that Hamas is both a political but also a military entity that commits acts of terrorism. As a terrorist organization, Hamas is unlikely to be swayed by potential UN sanctions, the Geneva Convention, or attempts to make them responsible under international humanitarian law.



Is There More The Red Cross Can Do to Gain Access to The Gaza Hostages?


While the Red Cross claims it is doing everything it possibly can based on its stated positions of impartiality and neutrality, to secure the release of the hostages and facilitate their return once an agreement is reached, there are many who are calling for the ICRC to do more.


Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen has been particularly vocal about how Israel expects more from the Red Cross, including prioritizing access to the hostages and being more forceful in its efforts to provide the medical care many of those in captivity likely need. At least 29 of the hostages are believed to be aged 55 or older, with up to six being over 80.


In recent weeks representatives of the families of the hostages have joined in demanding the Red Cross do more to secure access to their relatives and push for medical access which for many hostages may be the difference between life and death.


Tali Amano daughter of released 84-year-old hostage, Elma Avraham has recounted how she met with the Red Cross and begged them to get essential medications to her Mother while she was held in Gaza. "We stood at the entrance, with a package of medications for her," Amano said. "My mother didn't need to return this way.” Elma Avraham was rushed to hospital immediately following her release from Gaza where she spent several days in intensive care in a critical condition.


Rachel Goldberg, mother of hostage Hersh Goldberg-Polin has been quoted as saying that the Red Cross has done a good job “being the Uber service for the released hostages.” This, a reference to the organization's role in driving the hostages to the Egyptian authorities as part of the cease-fire and release agreement that has since expired. Goldberg later says that the Red Cross had managed to find their way into Gaza to visit and report on the conditions of Gazan civilians and the expectation was that they do the same for the hostages still held.


The Red Cross is not a stranger to Gaza. The organization has had a presence there since 1967. Many in Israel believe this gives the ICRC the necessary connections to Hamas, as well as other hostage negotiation partners such as Qatar and Egypt. As such, the humanitarian organization should be using all these channels to demand access to the hostages.


As reported by several media outlets on November 20, 2023, Mirjana Spoljaric Egger, the President of the Red Cross was in Qatar, where she met with local officials involved in the hostage negotiations as well as with the head of Hamas. These meetings ended with no approval for Red Cross visits.


On December 4, 2023, several media sources reported that Spolarjic would visit Gaza in an attempt to secure humanitarian access to the 113 hostages still being held there.



The Red Cross and the Jewish People: Historical Context


The Red Cross and the current criticism of it, largely from within Israel, cannot be fully understood without some additional context. For example, Israel media notes that, in its social media accounts, the Red Cross failed to acknowledge the 1200 victims of the October 7th Hamas incursion and attack within Israel.


Indeed, accusations of anti-Jewish bias by the Red Cross date back to the Holocaust. As early as August 1942, it was believed the organization knew about many of the atrocities being perpetrated against the Jewish people by Nazi Germany, though. the Red Cross later claimed it did not feel qualified to act and feared that, at the time, had the ICRC spoken up it would have lost what it believed was crucial access to Nazi prisoner of war camps across Europe. Much of this information comes from the organization’s own files kept during World War II and released to the United States Holocaust Museum in 1996.


For its part, the Red Cross continues to stress its position of neutrality and impartiality regardless of the situation or conflict. They also continue to make it clear they are visiting with the Israel-based families of the Gaza hostages and that the organization continues to request information on their whereabouts, living conditions, and health.


However, the organization also continues to stress that without an agreement between Hamas and Israel, they’re unable to ‘force’ their way into Gaza and are therefore unlikely to secure the opportunity to visit the hostages anytime soon.

 

Sources











CNN, ‘Israel-Hamas War’, November 29, 2023


US Government National Counterterrorism Center, https://www.dni.gov/nctc/ftos/hamas_fto.html





New York Times, ‘Red cross admits knowing of the Holocaust during the War,’ December 19, 1996


Red Cross, ‘Red Cross President to meet with families of hostages,’ November 14, 2023




 

Rebecca Tomasis

Rebecca Tomasis


Rebecca Tomasis is an organic growth expert focusing on content optimization, SEO research and tracking. She believes that organic growth and content marketing are the new pillars of marketing and the best way to create and build relationships.

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