With much attention focused on Gilad Shalit and the two Americans being held hostage in Iran, it's easy to forget another instance of an unjust and cruel detention -- the case of Alan Gross, the USAid subcontractor sentenced in Cuba to 15 years in jail.
Gross was arrested in December 2009 and convicted earlier this year on charges of illegally importing banned communications equipment. The 62-year-old Maryland man, whose Philadelphia relatives have been among those pressing for his release, has said he was helping the island's tiny Jewish community improve its Internet capabilities.
The Cuban Supreme Court denied his final legal appeal last month. The U.S. government and his family are hoping that the Cuban authorities will respond to a humanitarian request for his release, especially since several of his close family members -- including his daughter and mother -- are battling cancer. Gross himself has reportedly lost some 100 pounds and has suffered illness while in custody.
Several national Jewish organizations are stepping up the pressure, with an interfaith vigil slated on Friday in New York in front of the Cuban Mission to the United Nations. A simultaneous vigil will be held in Washington, D.C., at the Cuban Interests Section. At that time, the JCRC of Greater Washington will present to Cuban authorities results from an online petition, pleading for Gross' release. The petition, which can be accessed atwww.jcouncil.org/gross , is addressed to Cuban President Raul Castro and states in part: "We understand that Alan's actions may have offended the Cuban government. But we believe that after nearly two years in prison, Alan and his family have paid an enormous price for Alan's work in helping the Cuban Jewish community improve its access to the Internet. As Alan, himself, has stated, he never intended any harm to the Cuban government or the Cuban people, and he would never involve himself in the domestic politics of a foreign country in which he was a guest."
It goes on to appeal for his "compassionate" release in advance of Rosh Hashanah.
In truth, here's another individual caught in the web of geopolitics. Cuban officials are apparently using the Gross case as a way to condemn U.S. democracy-building programs that they see as efforts to undermine one of the last bastions of communism.
Even as much of our energy and fears this week are rightly focused on the deeply disturbing events at the United Nations, with the one-two punch of the Palestinian bid for statehood and the Durban III conference with its insidious "celebration" of an unabashedly anti-Israel agenda, let's not forget that a Jewish man is languishing in a Cuban prison. Let's step up the pressure to speed up Gross' release so that he and his family can mark the Jewish new year reunited and in peace.