Protestors near Kirya base
Photo: Dudu Azoulay
Dozens mark Shalit's 23rd birthday in TA
Protestors gather near Defense Ministry, raise empty birthday chair in air in honor of kidnapped soldier
Fourth birthday in captivity: On the backdrop of reports on progress made in the negotiations for a prisoner exchange deal, activists of the Gilad Shalit Campaign marked his 23rd birthday Thursday evening.


Some 100 people gathered near the Defense Ministry building at Tel Aviv's Kirya base, planning to light 23 torches when it got dark. They raised an empty birthday in the air and waved signs directed at the soldiers: "Are you going home (for the weekend)? Gilad want to too."


At the same time, the Shalit family plans to mark Gilad's birthday in a quiet event at his home in the northern community of Mitzpe Hila.


Protestors wave signs directed at solders (Photo: Dudu Azoulay)


Danny Vala, 67, of Kibbutz Yotvata, one of the rally's organizers, said he expected hundreds of people to attend the event by the evening hours.


"The public pressure has helped, and Netanyahu decided to cancel the value-added tax on fruits and vegetables and delay the deportation of foreign workers' kids," he stated. "But the prime minister is not making the decision which will bring Gilad home, because there is not enough public pressure. This is what we are here for."


Angie Gross, a young woman from Raanana who is about to be drafted, stood under a sign reading, "If Gilad isn't released – we won't enlist."


"I stand behind this," she said without thinking twice. "If I had any considerations whether to join the IDF – they are insignificant in light of this situation. The government is evading its own soldier, so why shouldn't we evade? I am loyal to whoever is loyal to me. I will protect you as long as you protect me.


"You didn't protect Gilad, so why should I protect you? The fact that Gilad's sister agreed to be drafted is an unbelievable thing. I have so much respect for her for being loyal to the army which failed to bring her brother back home. But we, the youth, won't enlist until Gilad returns home."


One of the protestors is Sheikh Salem al-Huzayyel of Rahat, who has been organizing a protest tent for Shalit in Arad for two years now. According to him, the support for Shalit comes from all sectors of the public, but he would expect more from the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon.


"They should be here in masses, because they are Hamas' goal and Shalit protected them. I would expect them, of all people, to come here and demonstrate for Gilad."


Gilad Shalit was kidnapped into the Gaza Strip 1,159 days ago.


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