Shalit family, demonstrators mark 5th anniversary of soldiers capture

Hundreds call for Israeli PM to agree to prisoner swap

By Ryan Ariel Simon

JERUSALEM, Israel (June 25) — Hundreds of demonstrators blocked the heavily guarded street in front of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence to mark the fifth year that captured soldier Gilad Shalit has been held by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip.

(From L to R, Gilad's sister, brother, father, and mother sit chained together, and to the fence outside the PM's Rehavia, Jerusalem residence (Ryan Ariel Simon)

Members of the soldier’s family, including his elderly grandfather, chained themselves Saturday to a fence beside the banner-draped tent in which they have been living to protest Netanyahu’s failure to strike a deal with the militant Islamic Hamas organization that would free Shalit.

“Bibi wake up! Gilad is still alive! Where is your conscience?” chanted the crowd as they handed out yellow ribbons and waved Israeli flags. Banners bearing Shalit’s face hung from a building across Azza Street, along with a poster with the number “1826,” the number of days Shalit has been in captivity.

Shalit, a dual French-Israeli citizen, was 19 when Palestinian militants captured him from a tank outside the Gaza Strip in 2006.

“The strength of our army is that we don’t leave any soldier behind,” said Shimshon Liebman, director of the campaign to free Shalit. “It’s very meaningful for the future of our country, and our army, what happens to him.”

Liebman said the family is asking that Netanyahu “pay the price” for Shalit’s return. Israel and Hamas have been negotiating over a proposed deal that would free Shalit in exchange for as many as 1000 Palestinians in Israeli jails. Critics of the swap argue it would encourage Hamas to kidnap more soldiers, and increase the possibility of terrorist attacks against Israel.

Israelis from across the political spectrum are united over the campaign, and a recent poll published in Haaretz said that 63% back a swap deal to free Shalit.

In what he said was a response to the impasse, Netanyahu recently announced a move to reduce the privileges of Palestinian prisoners in an effort to put pressure on Hamas.

The UK, France, Italy, Russia, Germany, and the US are among the governments who have called for Shalit’s immediate release. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon also called for Shalit’s immediate release and asked Hamas to comply with international humanitarian law and joined the International Red Cross in calling on Hamas provide information about the captured soldier.

Israeli, and Palestinian, and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement Friday, and have repeatedly criticized the lack of information from Hamas, who have not released any information about Shalit since a 2009 video.

Two Bedouin children protest the captivity of Gilad Shalit in front of Netanyahu's Jerusalem residence Saturday, June 25 (Ryan Ariel Simon)

Palestinians charge that prisoners have died from hunger strikes to achieve better conditions in Israeli jails, and media reports of “hotel-like” conditions are exaggerated, and that 219 prisoners are being held without charge in Administrative Detention, reported in Ma’an, the Palestinian news agency.

Bedouin children wearing black and red keffiyehs stood on a minivan waving an Israeli flag, and a flag with the iconic picture of Shalit’s face protesting the soldiers continued detention, many Bedouin Arab citizens from the Negev volunteer to serve in the Israeli army although they are not required to do so.

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