'Did Anyone Tell Gilad Shalit It's His Birthday?'

Kidnapped IDF soldier has his third birthday since seized in cross-border raid by Hamas in 2006.

Noam Shalit searches for the precise word to express the pain that accompanies mention of his son Gilad Shalit's third birthday in captivity: "I take issue with the word 'celebration' or 'ceremony," he says. "We are not celebrating. A lot of people are marking this day in all sorts of ways, and we just want to remind the people of Israel that we are waiting already for a third birthday, a third year, while the government does nothing to bring him home."

Phone calls kept coming to the Shalit family home Wednesday afternoon. Noam Shalit is home, on leave from work; his wife, Aviva, is at work. "We chose to carry on with our routines," he says. "We're not involved in preparations for the events."

Family members opted not to come to the rally Wednesday at the Sufa crossing along the Gaza Strip border, and attend instead a solidarity gathering in their own community of Mitzpe Hila: a procession on foot to the Shalits' home, culminating in a ceremony in their yard with speeches by Aviva Shalit and Miki Goldwasser, the mother of the Second Lebanon War captive soldier whose remains were recently returned.

The public's outpouring of love and support for the family is clear. While we were at the Shalits, a representative of Maccabi Tel Aviv called to say the basketball team wants to mark Gilad Shalit's abduction during the season's opening ceremony and would like the family to attend. "On Friday there's a flyover and last week there was a boat sail, and all these events are important and beautiful and everyone wants us to come but we can't attend them all. We have to preserve our strength for the primary activity, dealing with those who and and should execute Gilad's release."

Shalit appears dejected and tired. He is waiting for a phone call from Ehud Barak, who is in Egypt and met with its leaders to discuss Gilad Shalit and Hamas. "I asked for an update. I'm still waiting for a phone call," he says in manifest despair. "We are living in a sense of uncertainty," he admits. "It's hard. The nuclear family is living inside an ongoing nightmare and there is no horizon to hang on to. It's a hard feeling of frustration that leads you to hopelessness and to situations of helplessness. We are entering the third year, and it looks like the country has internalized this and it doesn't seem that anything is moving ahead, that anyone among the decision makers even has the determination to conclude the affair. Last Monday we were at a meeting we initiated with Ehud Olmert. Only once, during the war, the prime minister summoned the three families for a meeting, and since then we have been the ones initiating the meetings. And he is the only one who meets with us. None of the ministers has ever initiated a meeting with us."

Shalit says he came out of last week's meeting with a bad feeling. "Olmert just raised his hands in the air, rolled his eyes and said, 'What can you do, this is all there is.' That's the level of answers we got. I came away with a feeling that he is finishing his shift and has no commitment to bringing Gilad back during his term. He is stuck on the concept that the ransom price is too heavy, that such a price cannot be paid, that maybe something unexpected will bring this matter to a close. It reminded me for a moment of the case of the Aberjil family - where the Israeli police is not capable of dealing with it but suddenly there's a miracle and an outside force, in the United States in this case, resolves the matter. Apparently that's what they're waiting for, for a miracle like that to occur.

"And just to contemplate what a young man kidnapped at 19, whose third birthday in captivity this is, what he is thinking, what he knows, if he even knows anything, if anybody tells him what date it is, if anybody informs him that it's his birthday. After all, we have no clue even in what kind of conditions he's being kept."

Shalit stops talking, but his anger at Olmert gets him going again: "They tell me the price is heavy. If you have the possibility of accomplishing it at a lower price - go ahead. You had two years to exercise all you leverage and all the means and all the technology and force in order to finish it at half-price. You didn't do it, you failed. Say 'I failed.' And most importantly say what we do now."

Copies of the book Gilad wrote and his family published are strewn about the house. "When the Shark and the Fish First Met" became a best-seller and has been translated into Italian. Does Gilad know about this? Noam Shalit's eyes tear up and his self-restraint cracks for a moment. "What's important to me is that Gilad hangs in there and gets through this period," he says. "I know it's an impossible to ask for such a young boy to deal with something like this, although there were cases in the past, but that's all that matters: that he stay strong and he will be able to come back to us soon healthy and whole both in body and mind."