Tens of thousands of Israeli citizens stopped what they were doing and observed five minutes of silence – one for every year kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit has been in Hamas captivity - on Tuesday at 11 am. The Shalit family members and their supporters protested outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem.
Speaking to Ynet, the captive soldier's father discussed the initiative and explained: "One minute for each long dark year that Gilad is alone." Noam Shalit noted that "sadly, there is no end in sight to our sorrow.
"This is just symbolic, during that minute each person should think what it's like to pass a year in the pit of darkness in the solitude and seclusion of Gaza's cellars."
In the north, protestors blocked Route 90. Some 150 students handed out yellow balloons to drivers at the Tzemach Junction. Some 50 protestors blocked a junction near Rosh Pina. Some drivers stepped out of their vehicles and stood by the protestors.
President Shimon Peres cut off his speech at the Negev Conference and stood silent for five minutes.
"For five years the entire nation is united in hope and demands that Shalit will be back here with us, healthy and in one piece.
"The whole country will not be silent; will not rest until he is home. The negotiations for his release are difficult; we are battling against a lawless and heartless organization. We will not let go and one day soon he will be with us," Peres said.
Protestors in Jerusalem (Photo: Noam Moskowitz)
"This is very important," one driver who stopped his car at the Sira Junction said. "What are five minutes for us when Gilad Shalit has been in captivity for over 1,700 days?" Hundreds entered the junction carrying signs and shouted "We won't stop until Gilad Shalit returns."
Hof Ashkelon Regional Council employees blocked the Kfar Silver intersection and dozens of students blocked streets near the Ashkelon college carrying signs with slogans calling for Shalit's release.
Employees at the Tel Aviv Municipality social services department decided to leave their air conditioned offices and head for the Azrielli junction where they stood and called out for Gilad's release before the Passover holiday.
"We are here crying out for Gilad to be released already," they explained, "the municipality gave us permission to come out here of course, as citizens and mothers not as employees. He is worth any price. Our message today is that the people of Israel don't abandon their children, we stand behind each and every soldier."
In addition to the private citizens taking part in the initiative, many organizations and public bodies also announced that that would take part in the special initiative including Knesset members. Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin ordered that work at the Knesset be halted in a show of support for Shalit.
Shas' spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Israel's Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar asked that the public stop what they're doing at 11 am and read psalms while praying for Shalit's health and swift release.
"There is strength in communal prayer," said Amar, "that we may get to see Gilad with us, sitting at the Seder table, a free man with his family".
Minister Eli Yishai also joined in the initiative and said that "as long as Gilad is in captivity, it means we haven't done enough."
Minister Matan Vilnai who is attending a Home Front security drill ordered the drill be suspended for five minutes. The Hermon site's management also announced it was suspending all activities for five minutes.
Noam Shalit in Jerusalem (Photo: Gil Yohanan)
"The special thing is there is a public awakening," Shalit campaign head Shimshon Libman said. "It's something real coming from all directions. It’s unusual both in concept and in message."
He added: "There may be a beginning of a real public awakening where citizens tell their leaders 'we demand you meet certain values.' I hope the public wave continues to grow and affect decision makers."
The person behind this unusual initiative is Kobi Sidi from Rishon Lezion. Sidi told Ynet he never thought his idea would have such a widespread effect on tens of thousands of people across Israel.
"Only three days ago, when the managements of institutes, factories and local authorities began to call me up, did I realize the impact of the whole thing," Sidi said. "Maybe I should have made arrangements in advance together with a public relations firm, but as it turns out you can organize such an event only by using Facebook and two telephones."
Sidi added that despite the use of such modest means, so far he has spent over NIS 50,000 ($14,000), including funds he collected from friends, on printing posters and banners.
Sidi stressed that "Gilad could have been anyone's child. He's not sitting in that pit by choice. I wanted to connect the people to Gilad. To show that even in the midst of our crazy lives here we can still make the time to identify with him."
Earlier on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "We have not forgotten Gilad Shalit" and noted he will be observing the five minutes of silence. "We know our responsibility does not end with standing for five minutes but continues with the effort to bring him back home as soon as possible."
Kobi Nahshoni, Raanan Ben Zur, Hagai Einav, Ilana Curiel and Attila Somfalvi contributed to this report