Shalit March Draws 16,000 Participants

Some 16,000 people participated in yesterday's segment of the ongoing march calling for a deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, organizers estimated.

Yesterday's stint began in Shefayam, proceeded through Herzliya and ended in a march down part of the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. At midday, there was a rally at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.

At the rally, Shalit's brother Yoel urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to "listen to the people and do everything, more than has been done so far, to free my brother."

"The public that is marching with us understands the chances and the dangers and is voting with its feet," he added. "We have a strong army, and the public trusts it" to deal with the threat posed by the terrorists whose release Hamas is demanding in exchange for Shalit. "We thank the thousands who are strengthening us and bringing us closer to Gilad, and Gilad to us."

Gilad Shalit
Moti Milrod

Finally, addressing his brother, Yoel added, "We are doing everything to bring you back. Be strong."

IDC President Uriel Reichman also addressed the rally. "They say this wave of marchers is an expression of weakness," he said. "The opposite is true: What is happening here is an expression of Israel's strength, and of the principle that all of Israel is responsible for one another. This state cannot exist without true solidarity among all of us."

Rona Ramon, whose astronaut husband Ilan was killed in the Columbia shuttle disaster and whose son Assaf was killed in an air force training accident, told the rally that "in a place like this, words are dwarfed. But I want to share with you a small prayer of mine: that we should have the power to change what can be changed. Gilad still lives."

Organizers said some 12,000 people joined the first part of the march, and another 4,000 joined in for the last segment, from Herzliya to Ayalon's Hahalakha interchange. Cars honked their support at the procession, and the day ended with Gilad's father, Noam Shalit, offering his thanks to the marchers.

"Our feeling is that Netanyahu's words have only encouraged people to join the march," said Shimshon Liebman, one of the organizers.