Shalit's Father Sets the Pace as Thousands Turn Out to March for His Son's Release

It is hard to imagine that the organizers of the march for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit took into account the marching ability of his father, Noam Shalit. The minute it was announced that everyone was being asked to let the family pass through and go at the front, Noam Shalit set the pace and those accompanying him tried to catch up.

Protest march for Gilad Shalit
Yaron Kaminsky

Thus, the first part of the march, which was planned to last four or five hours each day, turned into an energetic, fast-paced stretch of the legs that lasted three hours.

Shalit seemed to be in a world of his own, quiet, with those behind him sweating, huffing and puffing, but he did not slow his step and did not wait.

Perhaps after the passive building up of emotional pain over a long time, he was letting out all the rage that just had to come out.

It seems that the supporters of the Shalit family, who took matters into their own hands and decided to organize a protest that is both well-oiled and well-covered by the media, remember the famous maxim of Chairman Mao that even a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

One of the marchers yesterday quoted a poem by Yehuda Amichai about a rock that was worn down by the persistence of drops of water and expressed satisfaction at the mass turnout.

The organizers thought that they would get 2,500 people and hoped for more and were pleased to see large numbers arriving: 5,000 or more. Police estimated 7,000.

There was a great deal of satisfaction and hope, but not a word of politics. No debate on government policy. They want Gilad Shalit home. Netanyahu should think of him as his own son. Let him look in the eyes of his own soldier son.

The march began at 8:30 A.M. in Mitzpeh Hila, whose founders include the Shalit family, and in half an hour it had crossed the village of Ma'aliya, which is under Hila.

At the village and the small church, even though most locals were still sleeping their sweet Sunday sleep, some residents came out to greet the marchers and wave the yellow ribbons that were handed out on Friday and Saturday.

Perhaps it was the scent from bushes along the road or the many young people who were talking excitedly that provoked reminiscence among the older folk of hiking from the Mediterranean to Lake Kinneret, the exhausting climb to Montfort, the exciting days before being conscripted into the army.

Not that this was so for everyone. Nissim Salem, who was one of three prisoners held by Ahmed Jibril and released in the infamous Jibril deal of 1985, recalled: "My mother would go secretly to Yitzhak Rabin and would cry. And he would hug her and tell her, 'I will bring them back.' Those were different days then. Without loud public relations, but with leaders."