‘Gilad is still alive!’ supporters chant at protest tent

Across from tent in Jerusalem, relative of terror victims decries prisoner exchange deal.

By MELANIE LIDMAN
October 12, 2011 04:45
3 minute read.
Noam, Aviva Schalit at tent

Noam, Aviva Schalit at tent. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

The refrain “Gilad is still alive!” was a staple of protests during 1,935 days of activism in the struggle to bring back kidnapped soldier Gilad Schalit. Tuesday night, when the ministers met to approve a prisoner swap to bring Schalit back to Israel, the chant echoed through the streets into the early hours as hundreds waited to see what would happen.

But there was a dramatic moment after the announcement of the vote, when the chant instantly changed. Instead of a pleading reminder to the public and the government not to forget a kidnapped soldier, it became a joyous, victorious chant, sweeping through the crowd with strength and power: “Gilad is still alive! Gilad is still alive!”

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Crowds began gathering outside the tent around 8 p.m. on Tuesday, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu convened the emergency cabinet meeting. Though the official results were not announced for another five hours, there was already a feeling of optimism in the air, especially as it became clear that the deal would pass by a large majority.

Outside the tent, where Noam and Aviva Schalit have sat for 15 months, the streets were filled with dancing, singing and flag-waving as hundreds of people came to show their support for the family. Police struggled to keep the road open for traffic. A klezmer clarinetist set up during the early hours of the night as the mainly young, religious crowds danced in circles and sang traditional Israeli songs.

Noam and Aviva Schalit made brief appearances in the protest tent before decamping to a nearby apartment to escape the media frenzy.

Minister of Justice Yaakov Neeman, who was instrumental in sealing the prisoner swap, waited outside the protest tent to shake the hands of Noam and Aviva Schalit after the vote was finally announced, with 26 ministers voting in favor of the deal and three voting against.

As the Schalits walked back into the tent after the vote was tallied, at around 2 a.m. activists broke into a song they composed on the spot: “Gilad is coming home! Gilad is coming back to his mother and father, Gilad is coming back to his family!”

“Until Gilad is back home, it’s hard for us to be happy because he’s still in the hands of Hamas,” said Shimshon Liebman, the head of the Campaign to Free Gilad Schalit, as the crowds began to break up around 2:30 a.m.

“It’s important for us to come out here and show our support,” said Daniella Eisenman, a New York native who was one of dozens of religious American students in yeshiva year programs to come to the tent. “We may be Americans, but this is our country, and Gilad is our soldier, too,” she said, adding that she would remember the night “for the rest of my life.”

Still, not everyone supported the prisoner swap.

Across the tent, Lea Schijveschuurder, whose parents and three siblings were murdered in the terrorist attack at Sbarro in 2001, held a sign that said “The blood of my parents is screaming in their grave.”

“It’s hard for the families who lost relatives in terror attacks, but still, Gilad shouldn’t be the victim, because he didn’t kill them,” said Jerusalem resident Uki Ya’acov.

“As the mother of a son who is drafting in a few months, I’m really happy for Aviva, and I’m glad the state finally took responsibility,” said Ya’acov, who had an Israel flag draped across her shoulders. “I am especially proud today to be an Israeli.”

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