Shalit - Eliyahu Hershkovitz - June 25, 2011
Protesters in a rally, June 25, 2011. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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AFP
A portrait of Gilad Shalit displayed in front of the Paris city hall on June 25, 2011 Photo by AFP

Approximately 350 people gathered Saturday to mark five years since IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas and taken to Gaza. The event was held at an armored corps monument in the Eshkol region of the western Negev. The protesters called on the government to accept Hamas' terms for a prisoner swap.

Shalit's family did not attend the rally, but Gilad's grandfather, Zvi Shalit, sent a letter that was read out loud. "The people involved talk to us from time to time, caress our heads, but my dear grandchild Gilad is still rotting away in the Hamas cellars having done nothing wrong, like a common criminal," he wrote.

Zvi Shalit went on to write that Defense Minister Ehud Barak told him he clearly supports the deal proposed by Hamas, "but that (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu is opposed and cannot be persuaded otherwise." He also criticized Netanyahu and said his inaction does more damage to the nation's morale, especially young men about to enlist in the IDF, than the damage done by releasing prisoners. "I fear Netanyahu is waiting to hear, God forbid, that Gilad did not survive the conditions he was kept in, so he could pay a lesser price for his return," he wrote.

Ofakim Mayor and national war hero Zvika Greenwald spoke at the rally, saying "we are all talking about the price. Five years in the hands of a terrorist organization is the only relevant price, being paid by Gilad and the Shalit family." He added: "The Shalit family has already paid a heavy price in the Yom Kippur War, when it lost its son Yoel in battle in the Golan Heights. I was there. There was a failure there, and its price was also paid by the sons and their families."

Last week a poll revealed that sixty-three percent of Jewish Israelis support swapping Shalit for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, including 450 specifically requested by Hamas, some of whom are mass murderers.

In a statement released ahead of Saturday's five-year anniversary of Shalit's abduction, U.S. Press Secretary condemned Shalit's continued detention, and said the U.S. "joins other governments and international organizations around the world in calling on Hamas to release him immediately."

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called for Shalit's immediate release and called upon Hamas to comply with international humanitarian law. He also joined the International Red Cross in calling on Hamas "to protect (Gilad), treat him humanely, prove that he is alive and allow the Shalit family to have contact with their son."

Among the signs and billboards in the rally Saturday, one was especially noticeable. A woman named Hadar Miller was holding a sign saying "Bibi is a son of a bitch." "I have been to a thousand demonstrations," she said, "and I have nothing else to say about Bibi except this."