Source: AFP, 8-28-10
Thousands of Israelis demonstrated in Jerusalem on Saturday in support of Gilad Shalit, marking the soldier’s 24th birthday and his fifth as a captive of Palestinian Islamists in the Gaza Strip.
Shalit’s mother Aviva called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to do everything he could to secure freedom for her son, who was seized by Gaza-based militants in a deadly cross-border raid in June 2006.
“You have the chance of freeing Gilad,” she told a gathering from a makeshift podium outside the premier’s residence.
On August 3, the soldier’s father Noam appealed in an open letter to Palestinians in Gaza to pressure their Hamas rulers to agree to release his son in a prisoner exchange.
Hamas and other militant groups have demanded a swap involving hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including several top militants.
Israel made its most recent offer late last year through a German mediator, but Hamas has yet to formally respond to the deal. Each side has blamed the other for the failure to reach an agreement.
On Saturday, Aviva Shalit said she would continue a sit-in in a tent outside the Netanyahu residence, begun two months ago, and would not return home until her son was free.
Both France and Britain marked the birthday of Shalit — who also has French citizenship — by calling for his release.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy, in a message read out by a French diplomat, said Paris was working hard for his freedom.
“Gilad is not a prisoner of war, for PoWs have rights such as visits from humanitarian organisations or exchanges of mail with their loved ones. Gilad does not have these rights because he is a hostage,” Sarkozy’s message said.
He denounced “this revolting way of treating a human being which provokes our collective indignation, in Israel, France and across the globe.”
Britain also used the occasion of Shalit’s birthday to condemn his “unjustifiable” detention.
“The thoughts of many in Britain are with Gilad Shalit and his family as he spends his 24th birthday in captivity,” a Foreign Office spokesman said in London.
“His detention is unjustifiable and unacceptable. The British government demands his immediate and unconditional release.”
Another Birthday For Gilad Shalit
Source: The Jewish Week, 8-31-10
As direct negotiations resume this week between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government, there is a degree of optimism in Washington, though it is hard to say whether that is the result of signs of progress or naivete.
After 17 years of raised expectations followed by failure, from Oslo to Annapolis, some hopeful observers note the relative lack of violence in the region, the improved Palestinian Authority security forces and the pragmatic accomplishments of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in creating an infrastructure for a Palestinian state. Another positive sign has been the ability of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to move forward on the negotiations front while keeping his right-wing coalition in line, at least until now.
It is especially important now that the international community focus on and address an appalling situation that Israel and world Jewry is all too aware of, namely the continuing captivity of Gilad Shalit, the kidnapped Israeli soldier who just marked his 24th birthday this week, his fifth in Hamas-controlled Gaza.
It is gratifying that the British government this week demanded Shalit’s unconditional release, noting that his continued detention is “unjustifiable and unacceptable.” Where is the United Nations and the rest of the world in making similar demands to free a soldier whose captors have refused him any contact with the outside world or visits from the International Red Cross?
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has launched a website to dramatize Gilad Shalit’s plight — http://www.giladgreetings.org — which features a video and song about his situation, background information, links to congressional resolutions and a message from Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel.
This one soldier’s captivity is a painful reminder that the road to Mideast peace is tortuous even if progress can be made with the Palestinian Authority. The reality is that Hamas, which controls Gaza and its 1.5 million inhabitants, remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.
We must do our part to show support for Shalit while demanding the world pressure Hamas for his unconditional release.