. In their final effort to pressure the Olmert government to secure the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, the Shalit family have stationed themselves in a protest tent across the Prime Minister’s Residence for more than a week now. Rain or shine, the family gathers together each day as reporters, cameramen and thousands of supporters mill around, amid the sad faces of Gilad‘s parents, Noam and Aviva, and older brother, Yoel.
“We are cautiously waiting to see what will happen,” said Noam Shalit on a rainy Sunday standing outside the tent and speaking with Sderot Media Center and press. The family believes that these last few days are critical during the final attempts to negotiate a release deal with Hamas but continue to remain wary. “I am not at all optimistic. If I were optimistic, I wouldn’t be here. I would be at home,” Noam Shalit said.
Noam Bedein and Noam Shalit
Photo: Anav Silverman
A sign at the protest tent lists the number of days that Gilad has been held captive by Hamas–this Saturday it will be 1,000 days. Palestinian terrorists captured Gilad at the Erez border crossing almost three years ago, when Hamas won control of the Gaza Strip. He has since been denied Red Cross visitations or communication with his family and the outside world.
In a country where the military plays a pivotal role and everyone knows someone in service, the Gilad Shalit capture has touched the hearts of Israelis across the nation, making him a national symbol. Posters, photos and flags of Gilad, a typical looking nineteen year-old in glasses, can be found plastered on cars, malls, and homes throughout the country.
Recently, however, the continuing storm in Israel surrounding Gilad’s capture made some small waves in the US Congress.
Following a briefing by Sderot Media Center director, Noam Bedein to US congressmen and staffers on Capitol Hill, in an EMET sponsored Policy Forum at Capitol Hill, US Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev) drafted a letter to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. In the letter, Congresswoman Berkley, who is a member of the Middle East Subcommittee of the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, asked that conditions be placed on the $900 million that the US recently pledged to Gaza.
Berkley stated that she is concerned that the $900 million recently pledged by the United States to the Palestinian people in Gaza will end up in the hands of Hamas, and asked that the money be withhel until the following conditions are met: 1) Hamas recognizes Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, 2) the launching of Qassam rocket missiles on Israel stops, 3) captured soldier Galid Shalit is returned (http://www.emetonline.org ).
On Sunday, March 15, Noam Bedein visited the Shalit family at the Jerusalem protest tent to personally hand a copy of the Berkley letter to Noam Shalit and explain the significance of the petition. Family spokesperson, Shimshon Libman told Sderot Media Center, that every effort including US pressure, would contribute to the family‘s efforts to bring Gilad home.
The Organization for the Release of Gilad Shalit, released an official statement warmly welcoming the initiative. “For many days, we have demanded that elements that can be used to influence some kind of deal–from transfer of money and goods to prisoners, will make Hamas understand that this is a mutual affair. Our true friends in the US again reveal their understanding of the game rules played in this region. This is the language of action needed. We hope that representatives of other contributing nations (to Gaza) will act in a similar fashion.”
Photo: Anav Silverman
Meanwhile, US Rep. Shelley Berkley is still awaiting a response from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to her letter.
The Shalit family will unfortunately also continue to wait for Gilad‘s release–indirect talks between Israel and Hamas in Cairo failed to advance Gilad’s release in exchange for hundreds of freed Palestinian prisoners. Knesset Minister, Eli Yishai stated on Tuesday that Gilad’s release will be up to the next government. During the negotiations, Hamas demanded the release of up to 1,400 prisoners. Of that number, 450 were Palestinian terrorists known to have been involved in terror attacks that killed Israelis.
According to the Jerusalem Post, Ayman Taha, a Hamas spokesman stated that the two sides had yet to resolve a number of differences regarding the proposed deal.
“It will take a few days before we know if there is an agreement,” Taha stated. “Hamas has presented its demands to the Egyptian mediators, who relayed them to the Israelis. We hope that the Zionist enemy will accept our demands in the coming days.”
At any rate, rocket fire continued against Israel again this week, as a Palestinian rocket fired at the western Negev on Monday struck an open area across a kibbutz in the Eshkol Regional Council. Over 160 Palestinian rockets and mortars have slammed into Israel since the unilateral ceasefire began on January 18.