Can the Shalit Family's Newest Effort Bring Home the Abducted Soldier?

Noam Shalit, father of the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, and the rest of his family feel that they are now in a life-or-death struggle.

Noam Shalit, father of the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, and the rest of his family feel that they are now in a life-or-death struggle. If in their previous pushes to agitate for their son's release, including camping out opposite the Prime Minister's Residence at the end of Ehud Olmert's term of office, the feeling was that it was just another move without a clear goal, this time the picture is completely different.

Noam Shalit. “We will not continue this for a fifth year, or a sixth, or who knows how many.”
Yaron Kaminsky

At the beginning of next week you are going to march to Jerusalem and you have declared you won't go home without Gilad, but at the end of Olmert's term of office you also held vigil in a tent and that did not move the deal along.

This time it's different. First, we said then we would remain there until his term of office ended in order to put pressure on Olmert to end the affair. To my regret, it didn't happen, and then Netanyahu entered the picture and we decided to give him time. Secondly, we said we would not allow another year to pass without Gilad, and that is what we intend to do this time. We won't go home without Gilad.

Don't you wonder why you didn't do that before, perhaps in the first or second year? And perhaps you would have saved yourselves, and especially Gilad, a great deal?

I don't think about that right now and I'm not busy with considerations. What was is over now and I'm looking toward the future. Perhaps when Gilad comes home, we'll sit down and analyze things.

Most of the public in Israel and public opinion express support for the family and its efforts. Does that give you a feeling of optimism that the struggle will soon end and Gilad will come home?

We can't speak about optimism so long as Gilad is not with us. It's true that the public supports us and the response to the campaign is great. We hope the public will continue its support throughout the campaign and also when we are sitting in a tent outside the Prime Minister's Residence. And I hope that the prime minister, who has had enough time to end the saga, will finally make decisions.

Do you believe that in the long run the prime minister will bow to public pressure and bring Gilad home?

I won't give the prime minister advice via the pages of Haaretz, but the prime minister knows why he was elected and that he has to make decisions that are difficult and unpopular. I won't be happy if terrorists and dangerous murderers and people who have the potential to return to terror are released, but after four years, the time has come to make up one's mind, especially since the government is not proposing any other alternative and there are no negotiations right now and no response from Hamas to the German proposal. So would the prime minister kindly make a decision and pay what is being demanded? And after that, the Israeli government has the tools and the mechanisms and the security forces that can deal with murderers and terrorists if need be.

Have you already heard from the Prime Minister's Bureau or mediator Hagai Hadas that your actions will serve the interests of Hamas?

That is a claim that is always heard. At the moment, there are no negotiations that we can undermine. It is a fact - for a year and a quarter after the start of Netanyahu's term of office, we kept a low profile and we gave the prime minister the time and the space, but to my regret, nothing happened. We will not continue this for a fifth year, or a sixth, or who knows how many. We are afraid that in the end Israel will pay the price but there won't be anyone to bring back. This speaks badly for two governments. There were governments in the past which made decisions, but not in the case of Ron Arad whom to my regret we lost, and I don't want heaven forbid to repeat the same thing.

Are you still in touch with Hagai Hadas?

Yes, of course. We talk.

Did he speak to you about the public struggle and his opinion about it?

That subject was not raised. Hagai Hadas and the prime minister know what my position is and I've told them.

Does the prime minister also speak to you about his opposition to giving in to Hamas' dictates and the price they are demanding?

I repeat that the price that was fixed was the suggestion of Ehud Olmert and Ofer Dekel. They fixed the quantitative price and the qualitative component - meaning the names of the prisoners - when they allowed Hamas to decide on the list. That was a substantive and strategic mistake. Hamas then presented the lists and it cannot let itself change its mind. So the responsibility is on the Israeli government, both that of Olmert and that of Netanyahu, and it is clear that there is continuity of government and it's not possible to shake off what was, and what was agreed upon.

To what extent did the lifting of the blockade on the Gaza Strip have an influence on your decision to start a new campaign?

I don't think there was ever a blockade on Gaza. There was already supervision of the goods and therefore the new decision will not change the situation greatly. The prime minister succumbed and capitulated because of the international pressure after the flotilla incident, and he merely added a general statement about Gilad, that efforts to achieve his release would be stepped up. That is a statement that was repeated every time we started a new campaign.

Are you disappointed not only with the government but also with the human rights organizations including the Red Cross, despite that organization's recent statement against Hamas?

I am. The latest statement by the Red Cross representative also does not contain anything new from our point of view. The same organizations work on behalf of human rights for the Palestinians but forget that there is a soldier who has been in captivity for four years without any rights.

A last appeal to the public?

Yes - I ask the public, anyone who can, to join us along the various parts of the route as well as during the time we will be in the tent opposite the Prime Minister's Residence, to identify with us and to show their position by coming there physically. We will continue the struggle until we see Gilad.