1,807 days after his son Gilad was kidnapped in Gaza, Noam Shalit walked into the Paris District Court on Monday to officially file suit, asking the French justice system to investigate and take action against Hamas, which is illegally holding his son.
“I do not know yet what this will accomplish,” admitted Shalit, after slowly reading out a prepared statement in French to the press gathered outside the court house. “But I can do nothing but try every avenue. Hold onto any hope.”
Using a French legal action called “porter plainte contre x” the suit is being lodged against “persons unknown,” but clearly identifies the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas as the group who kidnapped the young soldier, a dual French-Israeli citizen.
The complaint states that the kidnap was accompanied by aggravating circumstances and that Gilad, who is today 24, may have "suffered from acts of torture or of barbarism."
In France, the courts are allowed to investigate felonies against French citizens overseas, as well as issue warrants and try the perpetrators, even if they are not French. If a country -- or entity -- shields the perpetrator and fails to cooperate with the investigation, there are sanctions and other actions that can then be used as pressure on both the perpetrators and those who may be protecting them.
In the past such French investigations have been carried out against the perpetrators of the kidnapping and killing of seven French Trappist monks in the Atlas mountains in 1996, as well as against those responsible for shooting down the plane of former Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana– on which there were also three French nationals.
"Now that the motion has been filed," explains Patrick Klugman, one of the Shalit family’s French lawyers, "it is expected that a judge will be appointed – within days-- to begin an investigation."
The Shalits had been considering filing such a request for “at least three years,” said another of their lawyers, Pierre-Francois Veil, but decided to go forth with the move now as a compliment to the ongoing diplomatic efforts, and as a way to increase pressure, in the face of the reality that other avenues alone were not leading anywhere.
“There are some that say this is an antagonistic move, and we have to be careful how we tread. We had hoped we might not need to take this extreme action,” admitted Veil.
“It has been a long five years,” said Noam. “We had hoped to reach a deal, but Hamas keeps refusing everything, including generous proposals put forward by German mediators. We don’t have any option of filing suit against the Hamas from Israel, so we are now going forward through the French system, where it is an option.”
Patiently, with one hand in his pocket, microphones shoved in his face, and the rain drizzling down, Noam answered question after question, in French, English and Hebrew, all ones he has heard and answered endless times before: “Is it Hamas that is holding your son?” “Are you expecting any breakthrough?” “Does the Hamas-Fatah deal give you any hope?” “Is your government doing enough to help?”
“How does the recent unrest on the Syrian border effect Gilad’s chances,” he is asked three times. “This really has nothing to do with bringing my son home,” he responds, gently.
“Are you just doing this to get attention?” one young journalist wants to know. “Do you really have any hope this maneuver will lead to anything?
Shalit looks at him kindly. “All I can do is express my hope that the courts will do everything at their disposal to help me bring my son home,” he says. “I am not afraid of trying everything.”
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