As evening turns the hills surrounding the community of Mitzpeh Hila dark blue, photographers and television reporters wait opposite the little house belonging to the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit. The lights are on in the house, but the only people in the yard are a small group leading the campaign for Shalit's release.
If such a terrible tragedy had not struck Noam and Aviva Shalit four years ago, they would probably never would have had cause to speak to a reporter. The feverish public relations activities are very hard on them. When Noam comes out to water the garden, a flock of photographers descends on him. When Aviva is asked a question, she shakes her head emphatically and flees indoors. Although clearly surrounded by people who love them and want to help them, it is just as clear that they hate the exposure. And yet, today they will continue to do what they have been advised, everything they have initiated themselves to do to raise public awareness and everything else that is possible. At 8:30 this morning they will stand on their little lawn and listen to a little girl, Hagar, make a statement in the name of the marchers to the Israeli public and to the government.
Shimson Liebman, an organizer of the campaign that has been part of the efforts to free Gilad Shalit almost from day one, says he does not know whether Gilad's parents believe the campaign will create the pressure to bring about their son's release. But he says he knows, as do they, that the struggle must not stop.
"The first time I phoned Noam, I told him 'you are not the state and not the people, you are Gilad's father.'" However, Liebman said he opposes the opinion some people have that because the matter is personal, not political and speaks to everyone, there is no need to come out against the government.
The campaign, Liebman says, "protests against the state that has abandoned its soldiers. "This is the third time, after Ron Arad and Madhat Yusuf," he said, referring respectively to the airman missing in action since 1986, and the Border Colice corporal who bled to death following a gun battle at Joseph's Tomb in 2000. "Now people are still signing up for the sayeret [an elite unit]. I don't want to think what will happen if Gilad is not returned," he said.
Liebman said he was sorry the march had not begun even days after the abduction, but said that for almost four years the Shalits believed everything government representatives told them, and asked their friends to use restraint. When asked whether they still believed, Liebman said apparently less so.
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