Shalit's Unit to Be Discharged Tuesday, but Without Their Comrade

Soldiers' first step as reservists will be to meet Defense Minister Barak and march for Shalit's release.

Gilad Shalit's company will be discharged Tuesday at the army's Bakum base at Tel Hashomer, after completing three years of mandatory service. The routine of Shalit's daily life in captivity, meanwhile, will probably not change much. Elsewhere, the bereaved mother of Ehud Goldwasser, Miki, told reporters Monday that she intends to become "a soldier in the fight to bring back Gilad Shalit."

Goldwasser told this to reporters visiting her in Nahariya, where she is sitting shiva - Judaism's seven-day mourning period for deceased relatives. Her son, an army reservist, died two years ago when Hezbollah militants crossed the border with Lebanon and attacked the army jeep in which he was riding.

His body was returned last week along with the body of a comrade, Eldad Regev, who was riding with him. Their fate remained unknown until their coffins were transferred across the border in the framework of a prisoner exchange deal which cost Israel six Hezbollah prisoners.

"We shall not rest until [Shalit] is back home," said Goldwasser. Goldwasser's widow, Karnit, will also become active on this issue, according to her friends.

When Shalit's comrades give back their army gear, they will be able to do what they were forbidden to do while in active service. They will face Israel's leadership and call on it to bring back the soldier whom Hamas kidnapped two years ago, and bring him back alive - and at any cost.

It seems none of them plans on catching the first plane to Bangkok, as so many Israelis fresh out of the army enjoy doing. Their first steps as reservists will be to walk the nine kilometers that separate Bakum from the Defense Minister's Bureau in the Kirya military compound in the heart of Tel Aviv.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he will meet with the group of 21-year-olds in the afternoon. From there, they plan on marching to Rabin Square to demonstrate on behalf of their comrade's release.

"We are not launching a public campaign to fight for his release," says Shalit's commander. Dagan Shochar. "We want to give the government and decision makers the strength and the encouragement to do the right thing by Gilad, after they made a very important move last week when they brought back the bodies of Udi Goldwasser and Eldad Regev."

Still serving their mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces, many of Shalit's comrades held their tongues yesterday. Others were confined to an IDF camp near the Palestinian village Bili'in. Their confinement to quarters was a punishment from their commanders for drinking too much beer and misbehaving during a company trip to the north, in which they celebrated their imminent discharge.

Although the soldiers themselves are still silent, people close to them say they are bitter and disillusioned about the IDF. "The kids are furious," a mother of one of the soldiers said. "They're full of resentment toward the military establishment, they're ready to explode. My son doesn't share all his thoughts with me, but from what he does tell me, I gather that these boys have a lot of resentment and that it's starting to come out now."

The graduates of the IDF's 2005 recruitment sent Barak and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert a letter this week demanding they bring about the immediate release of their friend.

"We are being released today - when will he be?" they ask. "In July of 2005, we all reported to the IDF's Induction Center, determined to join a frontline unit and perform our ethical duty: defending our country's borders from all enemies.

"We were young, naive soldiers, believing that our commanding officers were right, not only because they were our superiors, but by proxy of what we believed to be their decree. We believed that the orders given to us were well thought through; believed that nothing would stop them from bringing us back home.

"Among us was a soldier named Gilad Shalit. He too trusted his commanders. He too believed that should he be captured, the State of Israel would not rest until he was reunited with his family."

The company's former commander, Captain Yoav Balaks-Boneh, who was discharged last month, will join the demonstration at Rabin Square. He told Haaretz that he supported "every word" in the letter to Olmert, and pledged to "remind all those who need reminding that the debt to Gilad must be paid, so that he does not become another Ron Arad."

Balaks-Boneh said he was afraid that prospect was an entirely probable scenario, becoming more tangible with every passing day. Time, he added, was not on Shalit's side.

"A military operation to extract Gilad is not on the table right now," he said. "So if the only thing that is on the table is releasing prisoners, then that is what needs to be done."

Amos Harel contributed to this article

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