Shalit Family Plans Stepped-up Efforts After Independence Day Outburst

Shalit family says Yoel Shalit's outburst at Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony Monday will not be an isolated incident; family says planning protest actions at 'every possible event' to pressure PM Netanyahu.

The protest over Gilad Shalit at the Independence Day torch-lighting ceremony Monday evening will not be an isolated incident, the Shalit family and an organization leading the struggle for the captive soldier's release promised yesterday.

The family intends to stage protest actions at every possible event in an effort to step up pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yoel Shalit and Ya’ara Winkler
Michal Fattal

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."

Sources in the Free Shalit organization told Haaretz that Gilad Shalit's name will appear and be mentioned a great deal more than it has been to date, and that the family has been encouraged by the supportive responses it has received from the general public.

At this stage, they are not revealing what other events they plan to protest at 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.

Security was apparently stepped up near the prime minister's residence yesterday, and dozens of police, including anti-terrorist squads, deployed when Netanyahu arrived following the end of the World Bible Contest. Police and fencing were also added at the ceremony for the awarding of the Israel Prize in an effort to block any possible protesters.

Activists at a protest tent run by the Free Shalit campaign said this was the first time there had ever been such a police presence there. But they expressed satisfaction that apparently, their efforts were having an impact.

The protest by Yoel Shalit and his partner had been planned in advance, but only a few activists were aware that it was to take place, due to concern that the plan would be leaked and Shalit and Winkler would be prevented from entering the ceremony. Among those in the know were Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva.

Winkler told Haaretz that ever since Gilad was kidnapped, the family has been invited to attend the Independence Day ceremony and sit in the section for families of prisoners of war and missing soldiers.

"This year I told Yoel we needed to do something, and he was quick to respond. We decided we were going to do it even though at first, we had reservations, because it doesn't reflect the family's character, and we were raised on the day's values. But we said this is no longer bearable."

The signs were prepared in the afternoon and folded into Ya'ara's purse. They entered the site of the ceremony without a hitch. Gilad Shalit's name was first mentioned by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who mentioned him when the torch for missing soldiers was lit.

A short while later, during the lighting of the fourth torch, Yoel and Ya'ara burst onto the plaza and waved their signs "to protest the haplessness of the government's efforts to bring Gilad home."

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

But people who were watching the ceremony live on television did not see the protest, since the cameras continued to stay focused on Rivlin.

The Ministry of Public Diplomacy and Diaspora Affairs said that television coverage of the event was handled by a private contractor, and the direction of the cameras was determined "by their professional considerations, not by our instructions."

Shimshon Leibman, who heads the Free Shalit campaign, told Haaretz the protest was initiated by the family. "The family was surprised by the police's determination to remove them from the stage, and we wish there were a similar level of determination to gain Gilad's freedom."