Michael Oren: Gilad Shalit: Hostage of Hamas

The struggle to bring the soldier home has become a national passion for Israelis.

Source: WSJ, 6-25-10

In a small Jerusalem café, I sat with Noam Shalit and tried to discuss his son, Gilad. I say tried because each time Noam, a soft-spoken, bespectacled man, began a sentence, the owner of the café rushed over with complimentary plates of humus, salads and desserts. Passersby, glimpsing Noam through the window, burst inside to embrace him. “We are with you,” they cried. “We will get our Gilad home.”

That our is the key to understanding the devotion that Israelis feel for Gilad Shalit. The Israel Defense Forces is a citizens’ army in which most young men serve for a minimum of three years, followed by several decades of reserve duty. Young women serve for at least two. Our soldiers are literally our parents, our siblings, our children. Israel is also a small country with few if any degrees of separation between families. Even those who have never met the Shalits know someone who has. And all of us have loved ones—a brother, a son—who could suffer the same ordeal that Gilad began four years ago today.

Early on the morning of June 25, 2006, Hamas terrorists—using a tunnel secretly excavated during a cease-fire with Israel—infiltrated across the Gaza border and attacked an IDF base. Firing rocket grenades and automatic weapons, they killed two soldiers—Lt. Hanan Barak and Sgt. Pavel Slutzker, both 20—and kidnapped the 19-year-old corporal, Gilad Shalit. The IDF promptly launched a massive manhunt in Gaza, suffering an additional five fatalities, but failed to find the abductors. Hamas, meanwhile, demanded that Israel release more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, most of them convicted terrorists, in exchange for Gilad’s freedom….READ MORE

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Israelis demonstrate en masse to mark 4 years since Shalit capture

Human Rights Watch urges Hamas to give Red Cross access to abducted soldier; Shalit family: We’ll protest in Jerusalem until Gilad is free.

Source: Haaretz, 6-25-10

Thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country on Friday to mark four years since Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit was captured by Palestinian militants in a cross-border raid from the Gaza Strip.

Some 600 people marched down the main thoroughfare in the Galilee city of Nahariyah, while another 250 staged a protest outside the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Gilad Shalit rally in Tel Aviv Rally urging the release of Gilad Shalit in Tel Aviv, June 25, 2010.
Photo by: Motti Milrod

A convoy of motorcyclists was also to spread out to the embassies of each of the United Nations permanent Security Council members, urging the international states to pressure Hamas for Shalit’s release.

The Haifa municipality has planned a mass vigil for the evening, when demonstrators will unleash 6,000 balloons to commemorate the soldier’s capture. Another demonstration was planned outside of the International Red Cross’s office in Israel.

Gilad Shalit activist during a rally urging the release of the IDF  soldier in Bucharest, Romania, June 23, 2010.
Gilad Shalit activist during a rally urging the release of the IDF soldier in Bucharest, Romania, June 23, 2010. Reuters
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// The Shalit family will begin on Sunday a march to Jerusalem, where the plan to demonstrate outside of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence – embarking on a quest they say will end only with Gilad’s return.

“This time it’s different,” says Noam Shalit, Gilad’s father. “We’ve said we would not allow another year to pass without Gilad, and that is what we intend to do this time. We won’t go home without Gilad.”
It is not clear how long the Shalit family and the activists campaigning for his release will have to camp in protest opposite the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem until he decides to bring Gilad home. It is clear that the battle will be hard and long, and that public opinion will play a key role in the outcome.
An international human rights organization called Friday on the Hamas authorities in the Gaza Strip to allow Shalit to communicate with his family and to receive visits from the International Red Cross.

In a statement issued to mark four years Shalit’s capture, Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Hamas of “violating the laws of war” and said the Islamist organization’s “prolonged incommunicado detention of Shalit is cruel and inhuman and may amount to torture.”

Shalit was snatched on June 25, 2006. Hamas, which is holding him, has released only three letters from him, an audio recording, and a video recording.

The Islamist movement has refused requests by the Red Cross and by HRW to visit the captive, saying that to do so could reveal to Israel where he was being held.

“The laws of war prohibit cruel and inhuman treatment of persons in custody. They also require a party to a conflict to permit persons deprived of their liberty to correspond with their families and not to refuse arbitrarily a request by the ICRC to visit detainees,” the HRW statement said.

Hamas is demanding the release of hundreds of Palestinians in return for Shalit. Attempts to organize a prisoner swap, conducted through Egyptian, and then German, mediation, have so far failed.

Senior Hamas official Mahmoud a-Zahar told Israel Radio on Friday morning that his organization cut ties six months ago with the German official mediating the swap, and have not renewed the contacts since.

He said the mediator would return to the region when there was a new exchange proposal on the table.

According to Zahar, Israel had backed down from previous agreements on the matter, and the impasse in the swap talks was due to Israel’s refusal to free several prisoners whose release Hamas demands, and on its insistence that freed Hamas prisoners from the West Bank be exiled to the Gaza Strip.

He added that he had no idea of Shalit’s current condition, and did not even know if the soldier was still being held in the enclave.

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