Instead of apple and honey, pita and olives
Noam Shalit, the father of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, held his Rosh Hashanah dinner, together with volunteers, as close to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem residence as security personnel would allow him. On the table was water, dry pita bread and olives to identify with Gilad's daily fare. Nearby the volunteers placed a pile of 827 apples, one for every day Gilad has been in captivity.
Passersby stopped at the protest site, many dressed in their holiday best on their way home from synagogue. Noam Shalit arrived at 7 P.M. with his son Yoel, and sat down at the table. Next to him was an empty chair. "We're leaving a chair for the prime minister," explained Shai Shenkman, a volunteer for the Friends of Gilad group that organized the protest. "We call on Olmert to join us and not hide out the way - as he has for the past two years and three months - behind words."
"We are here to identify with Gilad who is sitting in prison or in a basement," Shalit said. "I hope he has at least these conditions, water and dry pita."
Shalit said he spoke last week to the Elysee Palace, and had yet to receive confirmation that a letter from the family had been delivered to Gilad through the French. In August, Shalit met with officials at the Elysee Palace in Paris and asked that President Nicolas Sarkozy intervene to get a letter to Gilad, who also holds French citizenship. The letter was handed to the head of the Hamas political bureau in Damascus, Khaled Meshal, to deliver to Gilad's captors.
Speaking to television cameras, Noam Shalit said, "in these Days of Awe and asking for forgiveness, I want to ask Gilad our son to forgive us, the family, that after so many days and months we have not been able to obtain your release from this terrible captivity, this nightmare, with the meager resources we have."
Shalit also said: "I also want to ask your forgiveness in the name of one who is not here, who has not managed to end your captivity after all this time. To ask your forgiveness for Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who is today sitting with his family a few steps away from here, and in the name of senior ministers who have been dealing with this for such a long time."
People in the crowd seemed shaken by Shalit's statements. "Let Olmert ask forgiveness," someone shouted. Shalit continued: "People in the know say the price for you is too great and that Israel might lose its strategic assets. But I ask if those knowledgeable people have considered that the failure to bring home a captured soldier might cause the loss of an important basic strategic asset - the value of the service of our children in the Israel Defense Forces, on which our security is based."
Throughout the evening, passersby stopped at the table, hesitating at first, then approaching to shake Shalit's hand or exchange a word.
About 50 people remained near the table with Shalit. He seemed amazed at the long distances some had traveled to be with him.
"This gives us a lot of strength. We couldn't make it alone," Shalit said.
At 9:30 P.M. a man in a Mercedes pulled up and handed Shalit a fine bottle of wine. "I'll open it when Gilad comes home," Noam said.
The man advised Shalit to be more strident. Referring to the table protest he said: "This doesn't hurt Olmert. If it was his son captured in Gaza, he wouldn't be spending a third Rosh Hashanah there," the man told Shalit.
One person placed a honey cake on the table. "No thank you. We don't want to celebrate, we want to be like Gilad," Shalit said.
At 11 P.M., Shalit left. "I have a long road ahead," he said. "The struggle is not over. This won't bring Gilad back."