Thousands Call for Release of Gilad Shalit in Mass Rally

The protest march by the family and supporters of captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit continues for its second day; Shalit's grandfather at rally: Why is Netanyahu waiting until we reach Jerusalem?

Thousands of people participated in a protest rally on Monday calling for the release of captive Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, concluding the second day of the 12-day protest march in Kiryat Motzkin, a city in the Haifa District of northern Israel.

Zvi Shalit, Gilad's grandfather, urged the government to announce its commitment to the release of his grandson, so "we can shorten this long and tiring march."

"I don't understand why [Netanyahu] is waiting until we reach Jerusalem . I urge him to announce his intentions now," Zvi Shalit said during the rally in Kiryat Motzkin.

The family of Gilad Shalit on Sunday launched a cross-country protest march, vowing they will not return to their home in northern Israel until the release of their son Gilad, who was abducted in a 2006 cross-border raid by Gaza militants.

The protest march, led by Noam Shalit to free his son, Gilad.
Tomer Neuberg

Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, said that he and his family were touched by the number of supporters that arrived at the rally.

"We expected hundreds of people and thousands came, which encourages us and strengthens us," Noam Shalit said. "I call on the nation of Israel to join us on the rest of our journey."

Earlier Monday, the protest march started its second day as participants gathered for a ceremony at a memorial park in Acre.

About 1,000 people joined the Shalit family as Acre's Chief Rabbi Yosef Yashar addressed them, who expressed support of the city's residents. "We are calling out to the prime minister: Gilad's life is dearer to us than despicable Hamas prisoners, even if they have blood on their hands. Show leadership."

Meanwhile, Noam Shalit, Gilad's father, said on Monday that his family is grateful and heartened by the support they have received thus far.

"We are encouraged by the support we are receiving, which was surprising to us even yesterday," Shalit told Army Radio on Monday, adding that the family will continue to demand action and results from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Shalit also responded to talk that several ministers were planning to join the protest march and said, "We are happy to be joined by any minister, but this needs to be backed up by results. We are aware of the 'price' and that terrorists will be freed, but we expect results after four years."

Ministers Eli Yishai and Yaakov Margi of Shas and Michael Eitan of Likud announced on Sunday that they intend to join the protest march by the family.

Police estimated that 10,000 marchers participated in the first day of the procession, which began on Sunday at the Shalit family home in Mitzpeh Hila, in the north of the country and is scheduled to end across from the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem.

As reported in Haaretz on Sunday, Netanyahu demanded that the cabinet evince a "firm stance" against the anticipated public pressure generated by the march, in the belief that a tougher stance in the face of Israeli public opinion will compel Hamas to moderate its demands in the prisoner swap negotiations.

The 12-day march, which coincides with the four-year anniversary of Shalit's abduction by Palestinian gunmen, is not expected to persuade the government to offer a more generous proposal to Hamas, which is demanding the release of hundreds of convicted terrorists in exchange for Shalit.

Nonetheless, the protest march did dent the government's unified stance following the announcements by Yishai, Margi, and Eitan. Yishai, the interior minister and Shas chairman, called on fellow Shas MKs and ministers "to support the family with their feet."