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Shame on the Red Cross for becoming political

Hostages who were abducted by Hamas gunmen during the Oct. 7 attack on Israel are handed over by Hamas militants to the International Red Cross, as part of a hostages-prisoners swap deal between Hamas and Israel amid a temporary truce, in an unknown location in the Gaza Strip, Nov. 29, 2023. (Photo: Hamas Military Wing/Handout via REUTERS)

Just as Lady Justice wears a blindfold to confirm her lack of bias and impartiality, every humanitarian organization must also aspire to the same standard if they ever are to be held up as a beacon of mercy and help to the suffering and those in need.

The Red Cross, once a pillar of society, in being the first to render assistance to any who found themselves in peril, has now failed to meet that threshold of decency by having become political in the Israel/Hamas war.

It’s been bad enough that extreme diplomatic pressure has not been forthcoming from the Red Cross, in an attempt to force compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) when it comes to the taking of hostages into a hostile territory, which is categorized as “a heinous war crime.”

This sentiment was echoed by Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen who, after his Nov. 14 meeting with its international president, Mirjana Spoljaric Egger in Geneva, point blank said, “The ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) has no right to exist if it does not succeed in visiting the hostages. We expect the Red Cross to put the issue at the top of the organization’s priority list, to use all levers of pressure and not rest until it visits all the hostages, assesses their condition and make sure they are receiving the medical care they need.”

But now, the organization has crossed a line that has violated their commitment outlined in their mission statement, which is to “be an impartial neutral and independent organization whose exclusive 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.”

Regrettably, the off-limits subject of politics entered the picture when representatives of the ICRC recently met with the families of Israelis being held hostage by Hamas, who were told, “by the ICRC that “they need to think about the Palestinian side.” The Jerusalem Post article, which uses the word “reprimanded” to describe the way Red Cross workers spoke to the families, goes on to say that one the ICRC representative actually stated, “It’s hard for the Palestinians; they’re being bombed.” Of course, she forgot who started this fire which resulted in making life hard for Palestinians!

Simona Steinbrecher, whose daughter Doron is among the kidnapped and in desperate need of medication, responded to the meeting by saying: “We left there as we entered: without new information, without something new and with disappointment.”

None of this shockingly insensitive behavior comes as a surprise to Israelis, who have taken note of the unacceptable behavior of the ICRC, with some Israelis even commenting that, “the international organization operated as nothing more than a taxi service when the hostages were released.”

Another indictment against the organization comes by way of the family of 84-year-old Elma Avraham, the oldest of all the hostages, who was subsequently released. Her family accused the ICRC of “refusing to bring her the medicine she needed.” The physician, who treated her at the hospital, upon her release, also hammered home the point by saying: “We were in meetings with the Red Cross and asked them to make every effort to bring the medications to her, because some hostages are just dying. From a medical and nursing standpoint, what we witnessed is unlawful neglect.”  

To add insult to injury, the ICRC has made what is tantamount to political posts, “about the dire humanitarian situation of Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, but not a single one about the plight of the hostages and other Israeli victims from the massacre.” In fact, a letter pointing this out was sent to ICRC by the Jerusalem Institute of Justice claiming this obvious bias on their part. 

But they weren’t the only ones to notice an injection of political leanings by the so-called humanitarian organization. A group of 1,200 lawyers also condemned the ICRC in a scathing letter which accused them of “not doing enough to help the hostages,” by “repeating the mistakes of indifference and inaction that it admitted to having made during the Holocaust.”

That’s about as blunt as it gets! It was back in 2020 when the ICRC “publicly expressed its regret regarding its impotence and the mistakes it made in dealing with Nazi persecution and genocide.”

It was after having been refused by the Nazis, for Red Cross visits to Jews in concentration camps, that the ICRC “opted for a strategy of no longer addressing the question of Jews directly…making no reference to their religious affiliation or racial origins, although it was clear that the people in question were, for the most part, Jews. On April 29, 1941, the German Red Cross informed the ICRC that it would not communicate any further on ‘non-Aryan’ detainees, and asked it to refrain from asking questions about them.”

In this case, ICRC doesn’t seem to have learned from their past mistakes since many view them as having been derelict in their duty both then and now. When you think about it, telling the parents of a daughter who is being held hostage that they should focus on suffering Palestinians who are being bombed daily is worse than putting a band-aid on a hemorrhage, because, in this case, they are actually adding salt to an already painful wound. 

There isn’t a more callous position than shifting suffering to the people who openly celebrate the deaths of Israelis by distributing candy on their streets. This is a cold-hearted, tactless employee who deserves to be fired from her post, because she not only abused her role as one who is meant to offer sympathy and comfort, but has entered the forbidden territory of politics which has no place in the halls of any humanitarian organization.

Why aren’t these guardians of humanity and dignity screaming from the rooftops, demanding that they be permitted to see these hostages, many of whom have chronic conditions and are in dire need of medical treatment and monitoring? Why are they not fighting with a fierce and unrelenting determination, resolve in their unwillingness to give up until they are permitted to see the hostages?  

The only conclusion is because they are not all that choked up over what has happened. They somehow have found the strength to sleep at night while 136 hostages still remain in the gravest circumstances, living their worst nightmare, knowing that, at any moment, they could be brutally murdered.

It is now that the one beacon of light and hope, the International Red Cross, has chosen to be daunted in their mission to help human beings during their darkest hour. Thus, they have brought shame on themselves yet again. Perhaps, it’s an opportune time for them to do some very needed soul-searching and ask themselves if they’d feel comfortable relying on their organization to fight for their humanitarian rights if they were the ones suffering in the pit of Hamas’ hell.

A former Jerusalem elementary and middle-school principal and the granddaughter of European Jews who arrived in the US before the Holocaust. Making Aliyah in 1993, she is retired and now lives in the center of the country with her husband.

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