His parents try everything as Gilad starts his third year in captivity
Ever since their son Gilad was kidnapped by Hamas in a cross-border raid from Gaza three years ago, the lives of Noam and Aviva Shalit have undergone changes they could never have imagined. A family that preferred to avoid the limelight was suddenly thrust into it - not only in Israel, but around the world.
Noam, an engineer employed by Iscar, has traveled hundreds of thousands of miles in his efforts to free his son. Aviva, a tour organizer with the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, frequently accompanies him.
The family, which lives in Mitzpeh Hila, has two other children. The eldest, Yoel, will soon graduate from the Technion; the youngest, Hadas, has just finished a year of national service and will soon be drafted. Their parents have tried to keep them out of the spotlight; Yoel spoke to the press for the first time just three months ago, in the waning days of Ehud Olmert's government, when the family set up a protest tent opposite the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem. For their children's sake, the couple also tried, as much as possible, to resume some kind of normal life after the first few weeks - when the media were encamped at their house virtually round the clock - had passed.
It was the outbreak of the Second Lebanon War, less than a month after Gilad's abduction, that diverted the media's attention. Ironically, Olmert was informed of Hezbollah's cross-border kidnapping of two soldiers - the incident that sparked the war - while Noam and Aviva were in his office for their very first meeting with him. The meeting was tense: Olmert refused to trade convicted terrorists for Gilad.
In September 2006, three months after Gilad's abduction, Noam held his first press conference, in East Jerusalem. Via the media, he urged both Hamas and Israel's government to arrange a prisoner exchange. Later that month, he met then British prime minister Tony Blair and asked him to work to free Gilad; two months later, he also met senior European Union officials in Brussels.
In December 2006, Noam published an open letter to Gilad in the Palestinian newspaper Al-Quds. "Gilad, our son, be strong and brave ... Don't break," he wrote.
In March 2007, Noam asked France to condition further aid to the Palestinian Authority on Gilad's release, as Gilad also holds French citizenship. At a meeting with then U.S. national security adviser Steve Hadley the following year, he sought Washington's aid in securing his son's freedom.
In June 2007, one year after the kidnapping, the Shalits received their first sign of life from Gilad - an audiotape in which he urged his family, the Israel Defense Forces and the government to work harder to secure his release.
This past January, shortly after Israel's three-week offensive in the Gaza Strip, Noam was urgently summoned to Paris so French President Nicolas Sarkozy could pass on a message from Syrian President Bashar Assad: Gilad was still alive.
In February 2008, a Haaretz poll found that 64 percent of Israelis favored direct talks with Hamas to secure Gilad's freedom.
Yet only in March 2009, during the final days of Olmert's tenure, did Israel and Hamas even start conducting intensive indirect negotiations. The talks ended in failure, and Olmert left office without bringing Gilad home.
Now, the Shalits are dealing with new governments in both Jerusalem and Washington. This month, they held their first meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and last month, they met for the first time with George Mitchell, U.S. President Barack Obama's Middle East envoy.
Tomorrow marks the third anniversary of Gilad's abduction. But his family is still waiting.