Independence Day torch for Schalit, Pollard, MIAs

May 6, 2011 01:46

US Congressional delegation of 9 legislators led by former House speaker Nancy Pelosi expected to attend ceremony.

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Rivlin lighting the Independence Torch.

Rivlin lighting independence torch 311. (photo credit: Muki Schwartz)

When Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin lights a celebratory torch next Monday on Independence Day eve, Rivlin plans to include a dedication to Jonathan Pollard, together with captured IDF soldiers Ron Arad, Gilad Schalit, Zachary Baumel, Yehudah Katz, Tzvi Feldman, Guy Hever and Majdi Halabi.

Rivlin is expected to tell the estimated tens of thousands of Israelis watching the ceremony both in person and on live broadcast that “we pray that we will be able to celebrate the next Independence Day together with them, and also together with our bother, our kindred, the prisoner of Zion, Jonathan Pollard.”

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It is unusual for Pollard’s name to be included in an official ceremony together with the names of missing IDF soldiers.

The torch-lighting ceremony is part of the central event held at the Mt. Herzl Military Cemetery that marks the transition between Memorial Day and Independence Day. The knesset speaker will light the central torch in a ceremony dedicated to “mutual responsibility”, the theme of this year’s Independence Day.

There are likely to be some in the audience, however, for whom the speaker’s call to release the Israeli agent who has served more than 25 years of a life sentence in an American prison might be a touchy issue.

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US House of Representatives Minority Leader Rep. Nancy Pelosi is expected to be in the audience as a guest of the government, together with what officials described as a “top-level Congressional delegation.”

The nine-member Congressional delegation - eight Democrats and one Republican – includes both legislators known for pro-Israel records and for less-sympathetic viewpoints. The delegation is expected to join the independence festivities in Israel after observing the situation on the ground in Iraq.

Top-level calls for Pollard’s release have increased in recent months. Earlier this week, Environmental Protection Minister Gilad Erdan sent a letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu asking him to include a call for Pollard’s release when he addresses Congress at the end of the month.

Erdan, who as an MK headed the Pollard lobby, said that Netanyahu should ask members of Congress to push US President Barack Obama to release Pollard.

Pollard appealed to Obama to commute his sentence and allow him to go home to Israel for Pessah in a letter hand delivered to Obama by President Shimon Peres last month. The letter received no response from Obama, who also did not react when Peres brought up Pollard’s fate when he met with Obama at the White House on April 5.

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