Yoel Shalit: Only Public Pressure Will Bring About Gilad's Release

In response to criticism of his outburst during official Independence Day ceremony, brother of abducted IDF soldier says it is the family's right to fight to free Gilad.

Haaretz Service
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Haaretz Service

Israeli politicians won't work to secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit unless they feel the full brunt of public pressure, Gilad's brother Yoel Shalit told Army Radio on Wednesday, following his protest during the state Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem earlier this week.

At Monday's ceremony, Gilad's brother Yoel and Yoel's partner, Ya'ara Winkler, burst into the plaza on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem where the torches were being lit and waved signs reading, "My father is a bereaved brother, I don't want to be one too."

Yoel Shalit and Ya’ara Winkler bursting onto the plaza during the central torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl. Credit: Michal Fattal

Security personnel seized the signs and removed Shalit and girlfriend Ya'ara Winkler by force. Afterward, opposition leader Tzipi Livni went to talk with them, while the ceremony continued as planned.

Speaking after the outburst, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin criticized the protest, saying he felt the disruption of the official Independence Day event undid public consensus on the need to work out a deal that would secure Gilad's release.

In response to Rivlin's comments, Yoel Shalit told Army Radio on Wednesday that the family has long ceased to listen to those saying their protest divide the public, saying the Shalits didn't want Gilad's fate "to be like that of Ron Arad."

Shalit said Tami Arad, the wife of the missing IAF navigator, told the Shalit family she regretted not acting more forcefully at the time. "The sense was that we were losing time," Shalit said, "and that without public pressure politicians don't act with the same urgency."

"It is our right to fight for Gilad's release," Yoel Shalit said, adding that it may be time for the Shalit family to "up the ante. Gilad's life is in danger, he could be lost any day, it's not like he's living in a hotel."

Referring to his controversial choice to protest Israel's failure to secure Gilad's release during the ceremony, Yoel said that his brother had been in "captivity for almost five years, and we need to re-iterate that."

"We have no time to lose. We must do as much as possible and with conviction – as if there was no tomorrow," Shalit said, adding that the idea for the protest was born "as we were invited. We've been to previous ceremonies and we saw that it was a big and impressive stage. We've always felt strange about being here, but we went for the exposure."

"It isn't in my character," Shalit said of disrupting the ceremony, saying the ceremony is something "very basically Israeli, we used to watch the ceremony together. It wasn't easy to disrupt that. We're sorry for disrupting the ceremony, and especially to the torch kindlers, but we had no choice."

Following the Independence Day protest, the Shalit family, as well as an organization leading the struggle for the captive soldier's release, vowed that the outburst would not be an isolated incident.

At this stage, they are not revealing at what other events they plan to protest in order to avoid interference by police or security personnel. This decision stemmed from the increased presence of police and security forces at yesterday's state-sponsored events in the wake of Monday's protest.

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