On the 10th day of the Shalit family's march calling for a prisoner swap with Hamas, the father of captive soldier Gilad Shalit urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Tuesday to use his powers of persuasion to advance prospects for a deal during his visit to the White House.
"The prime minister knows what he needs to do in Washington," Noam Shalit said before continuing the 12-day procession, which is scheduled to conclude with a massive rally in front of the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem tomorrow. The Shalits then plan to set up a 24-hour protest tent where they say they will remain until their demands for a prisoner swap are met.
"We also continue to call on the American administration, which knows how to press Israel to take humanitarian steps vis-a-vis [Palestinian] prisoners, to also pressure Hamas with the same degree of determination and in the same manner," he said.
After a long day of walking, Noam Shalit once again addressed a supportive crowd of thousands. "Our voice reaches all the way to Washington," he said.
Noam Shalit and his wife, Aviva, continued to inch forward yesterday. Day 10 of the protest march began at the Peace Bridge near the Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv and ended in the town of Ramle. Along the way, each town officially or semi-officially welcomed the Shalits and their supporters. The Mikveh Israel agricultural school near Jaffa hung a large sign which read: "Gilad Shalit, Mikveh Israel also awaits you at home." The Beit Dagan local council organized a rally in Shalit's honor, despite the intense heat and 80 percent humidity.
The culmination of the day's events took place in Ramle, when thousands of marchers wearing white shirts blended in with a crowd of locals who flooded the streets, some of them shouting slogans while others waved signs. The procession then stopped for a rally in Ramle's Gan Hahaganah public park.
"Four years of hell are way too many," said Mayor Yoel Lavi, who warned that leaders who abandon Gilad Shalit "are abandoning all of us."
While Lavi said the release of convicted terrorists poses a difficult moral dilemma, he added that "a strong society is capable of bearing the steep price that we'll be forced to pay - and a moral society must be weary of the illegitimate, commercial nature of the discussion over the life of Gilad Shalit."
The Ramle mayor took the government to task for "scaremongering" and encouraged the state's leadership to "prepare ways to prevent the return of murderers to terrorist activities [after their release] and prepare methods to go after them by force, if necessary."
Wherever the Shalit family goes, throngs of admirers are eager to embrace them. Some want to see their faces, others extend their arms for a handshake, and the more vocal ones anxiously await an opportunity to deliver earth-moving speeches at rallies and welcoming ceremonies.
Their audience, however, consists of Noam and Aviva Shalit, their son Yoel, and his girlfriend Ya'ara. They are outstanding listeners, but they do not pretend to reciprocate the national impulse for a collective hug, nor are they inclined to deliver rousing speeches or break down emotionally on the stages prepared for them. At each phase of their journey, they give modest thanks, add a few short lines and keep their messages tight.
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