Israel won’t pay an unlimited price to free Gilad Schalit, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Thursday evening, as thousands of Israelis demanding that the kidnapped soldier be released from four years’ captivity by Hamas in Gaza marched with the Schalit family toward Jerusalem.
“Israel is prepared to pay a heavy price for Gilad Schalit’s freedom, but it can’t say, ‘At any price.’ This is the truth and I’m saying it here,” the prime minister said.
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He explained that Israel placed a proposal on the table at the end of last year to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, but that for security reasons he had not agreed to all the names on Hamas’s list. Israel also insisted that the most dangerous terrorists be banned from entering the West Bank.
Schalit’s father, Noam, said in response, “The question is not whether to release [Hamas] prisoners, the question is whether Gilad should be killed.”
Noam Schalit spoke in the midst of an 11-day trek he and his family began on Sunday from their Mitzpe Hila home in the Upper Galilee. They plan to reach the capital next Thursday, and to sit in a tent opposite Netanyahu’s official residence until their son comes home. Each day they have been joined by thousands of supporters who have marched with them.
Schalit said that these people had joined them, “even though they know the price demanded for his release. They also know the price of abandoning a captured soldier.
“I ask you, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, to listen to the sounds of the crowd walking with us. Be empowered by them to make this difficult decision, before it’s too late,” Noam pleaded.
Netanyahu: 'Israel is united in its desire to see Gilad returned'
Speaking from his Jerusalem office, Netanyahu said that “Israel is united in its desire to see Gilad returned, healthy and whole, to his family, to his home and to his country.
“There is no one who meets the Schalit family who does not think to himself: Gilad could be my son, my brother or my grandson. The family’s reaction is natural, as is the desire to help them. That goes for all of us, myself as well,” Netanyahu said.
The argument was not about whether to free the young man, but about the danger of meeting Hamas’s demands for his release, the prime minister said.
“The State of Israel has always been willing to pay a heavy price to free hostages. I know about this firsthand. I lost my brother, Yoni, in the mission to free the hostages from the Air France plane in Entebbe [in 1976]. I myself was wounded in a mission to free hostages on the Sabena flight in Ben-Gurion Airport [in 1972],” said Netanyahu, who served in the General Staff’s Sayeret Matkal commando unit.
“In these instances, as well as in the failed attempt to free kidnapped soldier Nachson Wachsman [in 1994], Israel was willing to endanger its best sons,” the prime minister said.
But it is hard to make a deal that could lead to the death of more Israelis in future terrorist attacks, he cautioned.
PM: 'Released terrorists in prior exchanges have killed Israelis'
Terrorists released in prisoner exchanges have been involved in attacks that killed Israelis, Netanyahu said. He cited as an example the 1985 Jibril deal, in which 1,150 terrorists were freed, half of whom again engaged in terrorism. The core leadership of the first intifada (1987-1993) was made up of those terrorists, he said.
Netanyahu also spoke of the 27 Israelis killed by terrorists released in 2004 in the Elhanan Tannenbaum deal.
Trading dangerous terrorists for hostages is difficult because it endangers lives, even as it saves others, Netanyahu said.
It is for this reason that the US, Britain and other nations have a policy against such deals, he noted.
He urged members of the public to use their energy to pressure Hamas and not the government.
Noam Schalit accused Netanyahu of “trying to draw a terror scenario – as if things haven’t changed in the last 25 years. Gilad has been sitting in a Hamas basement for four years, and all Netanyahu can do is recycle the press conference by Olmert in 2009.”
Noam said that current and former military leaders had supported
trading terrorists for Schalit, and know how to deal with the dangers.
Shimshon Liebman, head of The Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit and
organizer of the “Freedom March,” was also disappointed with the prime
In an interview with Channel 2 news, Liebman said he expected more from
Netanyahu, considering the evident desire on the part of the public to
free Schalit that the Freedom March has demonstrated.
Liebman said he had wanted to hear Netanyahu say he would do everything he could to get Schalit back home.
He said he believed that Noam and Aviva Schalit would accept the prime
minister’s invitation to come speak with him when the Freedom March
reached Jerusalem next week.