VIDEO - Some 15,000 people arrived at Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on Monday morning to attend a rally for kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. Ealier, thousands of marchers protested outside Defense Minister Ehud Barak's home.
The captive soldier's father, Noam Shalit addressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak saying, "Behold this great wave of citizens marching behind us in thousands and in tens of thousands. Look, and understand – this is the will of the people. Gilad's release and his return home is not my family's demand, it is the demand of the general public, it is the shared longing and will of the Israeli people, which marches behind us and supports us.
"The tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of citizens that support us are not wrong. Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak – we put our trust in you, we expressed our faith in you. Who, if not you, knows that it is not talk that matters, it is not explanations, press conferences or excuses that matter – what matters is the end result."
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and former Chief Rabbi of Israel Meir Lau also spoke at the rally, saying, "For Zvi, Noam and Aviva, I am also willing to trade places with Gilad, to have him go home and return in peace. I am not familiar with the details of the negotiations, but I do not understand why one youth has been carrying the weight of Israel's security on his shoulders for four years."
Actress Gila Almagor joined the 15,000 protestors at Rabin Square. "I want to cry out loud with these noble and restrained parents," she told Ynet, wearing a shirt with the writing, "Free Gilad."
"The boy has been gone for four years. We must admire their way, and this may be the reason they are sweeping so many people after them."
A bereaved mother told the camera in tears, "Terrorists have already been given instead of bodies. How can they let a soldier rot there and his family suffer? We must not be afraid of those wretched terrorists, just bring him back… We must bring him back while he is still alive, so that Aviva won't have to be with bereaved parents on Memorial Day, so that she can see him and watch him get married."
The march began shortly after 7:30 am at Glilot Intersection. The participants arrived at the defense minister's house an hour later, and, using loudspeakers, called on Barak to "wake up." The procession then continued to the Kirya army base.
The marchers were surprised when Minister Barak's wife, Nili Priell, joined the rally outside the house. She explained to Ynet, "The fact that I am here says something."
The protesters waved signs saying: "If it were up to us, you would already be back," "Our march, your pain," and "What if it were your child?"
The protesters tied yellow ribbons to palm trees near Barak's apartment building. Security guards and policemen guarded Barak's home while the marchers were there.
Leora Almozlino from Bat Yam, who brought her two children to the march with her, explained, "The kids are on vacation anyway, and this is a perfect opportunity to give them a lesson in civics and to instill values of camaraderie, empathy, and even Zionism. My children, who are still in elementary school, nagged me for the past few weeks that they want to go to the march because they are sick of seeing the Shalit family on the computer or television without contributing to the fight."
Marchers in Tel Aviv (Photo: Roi Mandel)
Ronen Cohen, a student from Ramat Gan, added, "The number of people here proves that the pain and empathy with the family crosses all borders and regions in the country. The many residents from the Tel Aviv area who arrived here are shattering the misguided illusion that Tel Aviv exists in a bubble."
Roi Hazan, a handicapped IDF veteran, lingered in front of Barak's house for a few minutes, and wondered, "What kind of security can the country have if the minister in charge of it is not doing everything, is not going out on a limb in order to bring one soldier back to his parents?"
After the Rabin Square rally, members of the Shalit family and their supporters will drive south, where they will visit the site from which Gilad was kidnapped near Kerem Shalom.
During Sunday's section of the march, Yoel Shalit, Gilad's brother, said the support for his family had not waned throughout the march south.
"I don't think it has anything to do with place of residence, and hope that we will receive the same support here that we have received until now," he said. "I call on Tel Avivians to vote with their feet and join us tomorrow morning."
Among the participants on Sunday was Rona Ramon, who lost her husband Ilan in the Colombia space shuttle disaster and her son Asaf in a military plane crash.
She told the audience: "In a place like this, words become small. I am saying a personal prayer that what can be changed will be changed. Gilad is still alive." She received a huge round of applause from the audience.
Roi Mandel contributed to this report
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