Thousands of marchers filled up the kibbutz's lawns, which were decorated with Israel flags, balloons and yellow ribbons. The kibbutz members organized refreshments and seating places for the activists.
Rina Cohen, the school principle, said during a ceremony at the education institution: "The life of the youths who grew up in this country over the past few years will no longer be the same. Four years ago, during history or education lessons we could say in a resolved and confident manner that the IDF does not abandon hostages, that the IDF does not leave injured behind. After Shalit's abduction, there is a sense of hesitation in our heart.
"It's hard for me not to look into the eyes of Aviva, Gilad's mother, who thought she had put her son's fate in the hands of a responsible, ethical and worthy leadership," the principle added.
She said it was time to see leaders taking responsibility and acting courageously.
"True, we must take into account the day after the prison release and Gilad's return, but I would like to note that alongside the security damage which some say may be caused, the past four years have seen ethical educational damage which cannot be fixed. It must succeed this time."
Some 100 workers from the Mateh Asher Regional Council joined the journey as well.
"We provided the marchers with resting places in the council's communities," said Council head Yehuda Shavit. "Cabri's banquet hall has 570 seats, but unfortunately is not enough for this wide audience. Many of us were surprised by its size. Many of the council's residents are expected to join the march today and tomorrow, and I hope it will lead to Shalit's release."
Marching in north (Photo: Galia Shavit)
Members of Hapoel Haifa's youth squad, which recently won the national soccer championship and are expected to represent Israel in an international tournament in northern Ireland, joined the march as well.
They were accompanied by Hapoel Haifa Captain Eyal Tartazky, who told Ynet: "Like the majority of the people of Israel, we are following Gilad's fate with concern and decided to organize a group which will participate in the first part of the march to show the solidarity of the club and players with the justified battle for Gilad's release. Part of the education and values we instill in our youth is to take part in such events."
The marchers were joined by Azzam Azzam of the Druze village of Maghar, who spent eight years in Egyptian prison. "I would like to hope that Shalit's captors are not hiding from him the many efforts being made among Israel's citizens to bring about his release," Azzam said.
"I hope the government shows responsibility and returns a soldier who went out to defend the country and fell captive, not on a trip but while fulfilling his duty," he added. "Gilad must remain strong, and I believe we will see him return soon."
'Bibi, I'm under siege too'
Ronit Harari, who lives in Shalit's hometown of Mitzpe Hila, participated in the first part of the march together with her 15-year-old son, Shai.
"I hardly slept all night," she told Ynet. "Even when I did fall asleep for a bit, I dreamed about Aviva (Gilad Shalit's mother) and about the journey. At 5 am I was already up on my feet."
She added that she feared disappointment if Gilad were not to be released. "I think Gilad cannot be privatized; he is not up to privatization. I don't think that the question of the price is correct. There are people who believe in statistics, but Gilad Shalit is 100% for his parents. The price we will pay for the cracks in values may eventually lead to disintegration."
Some of the signs waved during the march were initiated by private groups and individuals. One of the outstanding signs read, "Bibi, I'm under siege too. Ease my life too. Gilad."
The protest's organizers, led by head of the Gilad Shalit campaign Shimshon Liebman, expressed their satisfaction with the number of marched and said they hoped many more would join the second part of the march – from Kibbutz Cabri to the city of Nahariya.
Ahiya Raved contributed to this report