Hundreds of people attended a rally outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Yerushalayim tonight to spur the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit on his 24th birthday. “I refuse to budge from here,” said Aviva Shalit, who went on to read out a letter to the wife of the prime minister, Sarah Netanyahu. “Mrs. Netanyahu, you have made headlines with your honest concern for the children of the foreign workers,” she said.
“My heart is with them too, but please allow me to remind you about a young man who has been in captivity for four years. Do you hear his cry? Do you feel his pain?” she asked.
“My son, once again we ask your forgiveness for not being able to release you even though this is your fifth birthday in captivity. Do not let your candle go out, do not break. We are doing everything we can to make your wish come true, but it lies in the prime minister’s hands,” she said in a plea to her son.
To Prime Minister Netanyahu Shalit said, “I left Mitzpe Hila and came to Yerushalayim and nothing happened. Gilad is still in a hole in Gaza. You have the power to bring him back tomorrow morning. Take responsibility like a brave leader. Go towards an agreement with Hamas to bring Gilad home. I refuse to move from here. I am not going back to Mitzpe Hila until Gilad comes home.”
Sarah Netanyahu’s response came from the Prime Minister’s Office later. “I understand the pain of Aviva and all of the Shalit family, and my heart goes out to them and Gilad. I know that my husband, the prime minister, is making a great effort to return Gilad safe and sound,” it said. The prime minister has said he would summon a meeting with the Shalits before Rosh Hashana, after he returns from peace talks in Washington.
Some of the protestors carried torches, Israeli flags, and signs saying: “My son will be a soldier tomorrow – will you abandon him if he falls captive, too?”
Organizers left a symbolic chair empty for Gilad, and created a presentation in the shape of a multi-tiered cake, with different pictures of the soldier.
Among those present were the parents of Udi Golwasser, who was kidnapped by Hezbollah, Nobel laureate Ada Yonat, singers Gidi Gov and Yardena Arazi, Nava Barak, and MKs Dalia Itzik and Ronit Tirosh.
A minor riot broke out when MK Itzik (Kadima) was on stage, with protestors interrupting her speech and calling on her to step down from the stage.
The uproar began after MK Itzik said, “There is no bigger mitzvah than the redemptions of prisoners,” to which the crowd answered, “What have you done for the release of Gilad up until now?”
Also in attendance was the acting French ambassador to Israel, who brought a letter for the Shalits from President Nicolas Sarkozy saying that “Gilad Shalit’s fifth birthday in captivity must be the last.”
“Gilad is not a prisoner of war, because POWs have rights. They are entitled to visits from humanitarian aid organizations, and are allowed to exchange letters with their families. Gilad has no such rights, therefore he is – it must be said – a hostage.”
“Your battle, our battle, is first and foremost humanitarian, because the holding of a man in captivity, in a secret place, for over four years is against all human values. This is your message, my message, and it gives a universal dimension to Gilad’s case and your actions. I call on those who hold your son to hear this and put an end to a man and his family.”
Earlier the British Foreign Office issued a statement calling for Shalit’s immediate release.
“The thoughts of many in Britain are with Gilad Shalit and his family as he spends his 24th birthday in captivity. His detention is unjustifiable and unacceptable. The British Government demands his immediate and unconditional release,” said the statement.