Nearly every week, irrespective of the weather, a handful of Israelis gather in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv to rally and demonstrate on behalf of Gilad Schalit, the Israel Defence Forces soldier who was abducted by Hamas terrorists in June 2006.
They do so to try to ensure that Schalit’s name will not fall from the public agenda.
Last week however, days before Yom Kippur and in the true spirit of the holy day, thousands of Israelis came together at the square to join Schalit’s family in begging the young man’s forgiveness that he remains, still, in captivity. We can only imagine the sorrowful power as parents and nation pleaded for the release of their son. The occasion was emotional and melancholy.
The pleas and the anger and the frustration however were not directed at the government of Israel. Rather, they were aimed at an essentially indifferent world whose indignation over Hamas barbarism seems now nearly exhausted, if not actually spent. First and foremost, however, the pleas were directed at the Hamas leaders in Damascus and Gaza. For theirs is the whim of hatred and cruelty that controls the fate of Gilad Schalit.
Hamas is reportedly demanding the release of some 1,400 Palestinians in Israeli jails, including those who have carried out violent attacks against Israelis, in exchange for Schalit’s freedom. Israel, apparently, has agreed to hand over 450 prisoners. But Hamas’ response has been the curt reply of senior Hamas official Osama Al-Muzaini. “No breakthrough can be achieved before the Zionist enemy agrees to all the conditions and all the names on the list we have handed over.”
Egypt has been trying to broker a power-sharing agreement between Hamas and Fatah that Israel hopes will facilitate Schalit’s release. The parties met last week in Cairo.
But most Israelis are losing hope. Indeed security officials have warned publicly that time is running out.
Three Rosh Hashanah holidays have now elapsed since Schalit was kidnapped. He is imprisoned, likely in a dark place, somewhere in Gaza. But he is not, alas, with his family, where he should be – where all sons should be.
We stand with the Schalit family and with the people of Israel. As they have promised, we will never let the cause of Gilad Schalit’s freedom or the affirmation of the irreplaceability of his life fall from our hearts, our minds or the public agenda.