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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4411

Senator FIFIELD (7:03 PM) —I very much endorse the contribution of Senator Forshaw, and I suspect that he and I will be on the same page in relation to my remarks this evening. Today marks the third anniversary of the capture of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit by Palestinian terrorists. On the morning of 25 June 2006, eight Palestinian terrorists crossed into Israel through underground tunnels from the Gaza Strip and launched an unprovoked assault on an Israeli defence force facility. They launched a series of attacks on the facility, including a tank manned by four Israeli soldiers. Two IDF soldiers were killed in this raid and a further three were injured. One of the soldiers manning that tank was a young man by the name of Gilad Shalit. Gilad suffered minor injuries during the attack and was captured by the operatives associated with the terrorist organisation Hamas. He was taken back into the Gaza Strip, where it is believed he has been held captive ever since. Captured at just 19 years of age, Gilad Shalit was fulfilling the obligation of all young Israeli citizens to serve their country.

Gilad Shalit was born on 28 August 1986 to parents Aviva and Noam Shalit. He has two brothers: Yoel, who is 25, and Hadas, who is 18. In breaks from his military service, Gilad would help his parents run their bed and breakfast in Mitzpe Hilla in the Western Galilee. He graduated from Manor Kabri high school with a distinction in science. Gilad is a passionate basketballer and sportsman. Hamas have made a number of escalating ambit claims in exchange for Gilad’s release. As recently as January this year it was reported that Hamas demanded the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel. Gilad should be released immediately. He should be released without condition. Those who kidnapped Gilad are terrorists. They are criminals. Gilad was defending his country, democracy and the rule of law. We should not forget that Gilad was defending his homeland—defending Israel from those who we know seek its destruction.

In July 2006 Israel was under attack from within territory which it did not occupy and over which it made no claim. It was attacked from territories from which it had withdrawn in a genuine effort to forge peace. Israel was not the provocateur; it was Israel that was attacked. This young Israeli man does not deserve to languish as a prisoner of Hamas for a moment longer. His family does not deserve to spend another moment in torment. That is why supporters of Israel must remain resolute in their advocacy for Gilad’s release.

I should acknowledge the tireless efforts of all who support Gilad and his family. I encourage them to continue. It is because of such efforts that his fate cannot be ignored. It is because of such efforts that we cannot forget Gilad and his suffering. Gilad does not deserve to spend another day in captivity.

I take this opportunity to acknowledge that, while the parliament is in recess, a number of members of this and the other place will be travelling to Israel. At the moment, the Deputy Prime Minister, with the member for Higgins, is leading the Australia-Israel leadership dialogue, which Senator Brandis, Senator Barnett and Mr Pyne are also participating in. Also during the break there will be an Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council delegation, led by Ms Julie Bishop, going to Israel. Senator Birmingham, Senator Ryan, Mrs Markus and Mr Billson will also be taking part in that. And I will be going to Israel on a Yachad scholarship, to study disability issues and the role of women in the Israeli military.

These high-level exchanges are important. Australia and Israel share common values. Both Israel and Australia are great and robust democracies. Israel is a beacon of hope and liberty in the Middle East. Israel needs its friends, and there are none more staunch than Australia.