1,096 days after he was kidnapped to the Gaza Strip, thousands gathered on Thursday opposite the Kirya base in central Tel Aviv on Thursday evening to mark Gilad Shalit's third year in captivity.
Gilad's father, Noam Shalit, spoke for the family: "We stand here opposite the prime minister's office, the Defense Ministry, and the (IDF) General Staff, opposite those who sent our son Gilad to a mission on the Gaza border, a mission he has not yet returned from. We stand here tonight to speak on Gilad's behalf, to
tell of his endless suffering."
"It's doubtful he can see sunlight. It's doubtful he can smile the shy, hesitant smile that was almost always on his face. He asks only one thing of you – his freedom. Gilad has already paid the price for mistakes and failings that were not his doing. All Gilad wanted was to serve his country," his father said.
View from the stage on Thursday (Photo: Dudu Azoulay)
Shalit turned to the assembled crowd and the Israeli public, and asked them to take three minutes and close their eyes somewhere quiet. "It feels like forever. Gilad is in that silent place not for three minutes, not even for three hours, but three long years," he said.
Shalit was followed on stage by Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's widow. Asking to speak to Gilad, she said: "I hope you feel your parents' and siblings' love from afar, that you feel the immense concern of the entire public. I never believed that three years on we would still be meeting at these events. It's impossible to think that for three years the Red Cross hasn't been able to get to you, to see how you are. Is this the enlightened world of the new millennium?"
Arad: Don't sacrifice Gilad
A letter written by the wife of MIA navigator Ron Arad, Tami Arad, was read aloud from the stage. "Twenty years ago, a few short years after Ron was taken captive, I met Benjamin Netanyahu, then a young MK from the Likud. We turned to Netanyahu like we did all the others, we asked him to support the release of terrorists in exchange for Ron when the time came for a deal to be made.
"MK Netanyahu listened intently and politely, he told me of his brother Yoni (Jonathan Netanyahu), whose bravery I had grown up on like everyone else. When I left the meeting, tears welled in my eyes. MK Netanyahu had not squirmed in his seat. He looked straight at me and gave up on Ron, out of a clear ideology.
Raising awareness in New York (Photo: Shahar Ezran)
"It's been 23 years since Ron was taken captive. I still don't know the answer, but it feels to me like we've sacrificed Ron as well," Arad wrote, adding that Gilad's parents will not be able to bring him home alone.
"They need the voice of the people. They need the voices of soldiers' parents. Dear parents, today the captive soldier is called Gilad, tomorrow it could be the son you raised so well and sent with your heart
trembling to serve the country. Is there any chance anyone can convince you that your precious child is too pricey for the state?
"Mr. Prime Minister, today you are no longer a young MK but a prime minister serving his second term. On the one hand you have the nation's security, and on the other hand you have Gilad, whose narrow shoulders the previous government has burdened with the cons.
"But you, because you are from a bereaved family yourself, you can look the bereaved families in the eye and make a brave decision. Bring Gilad home not only for Aviva and Noam but for all of us. So that we can carry with pride the values we live for in this country, that we sacrifice the lives of so many young soldiers for."
Gur Levy, one of the main activists in the campaign to free Shalit and a resident of his hometown of Mitzpe Hila said efforts would only intensify. "We're Gilad's army now, we're not going to wait around anymore," he said, adding that the reorganized group dedicated to Shalit's release will essentially become a social network that will allow "the tens of thousands who want to contribute but don't know how" to take on a more active role.