Aviva Schalit: Gilad is a human shield for Hamas

Captive's mother says number of prisoners to be released in deal not the issue, "we want him home."

Gilad Schalit 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Gilad Schalit 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Aviva Schalit took to the airwaves on Tuesday to publicly apologize to her son Gilad, 22, for failing to secure his release from Gaza, where Hamas has held him captive for 800 days. "I'm asking him to forgive me for not securing his release after so many days and nights," she told Army Radio. "I take responsibility for this. I do not know if it is a personal failure, but we have not succeeding in getting him back," Aviva said. She also had harsh words for the government. "They didn't do enough to bring Gilad back. It's not possible that after so many days there's no progress... I don't know why that's happening." When asked if she was angry, she said she wasn't, but that more could have been done. "There's no progress at all and we're in the same spot that we were in before," Aviva Schalit said. What was worse was that "we're not seeing the light at the end of the tunnel," she said. During the first meeting she and her husband, Noam, held with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after Gilad was taken, "The first sentence he said to us was that 'it would take a lot of time.' We didn't ask what 'a lot of time' meant, mainly for fear of hearing the answer. I think he also didn't himself imagine that it would take quite so much time," Aviva said on Tuesday. A long time could be a month or two, she said. Now, more than 26 months later, she fears Gilad may remain a captive for a very long time. Hamas, she said, was in no hurry to strike a deal. "The number of prisoners to be released in the deal is not the issue. Gilad is the insurance policy, the human shield, of Hamas, of the leaders of the organization - that's why they're not in a hurry; they have absolutely no reason to be." For the family, Gilad's absence was one long nightmare, she said. "We wake up with it and we go to bed with it. I sleep very little, only a couple of hours," Aviva said. As she lies in bed she wonders what her son is eating, how he is, what is happening to him. It's time, she said, for him to come home. "There is no price [that is too high] for his return," Aviva said. "Most of my time, I dedicate to Gilad. I hope that Gilad hears me. We're doing everything we can for his return... He is strong and persistent. He has spiritual strength, and I hope that he'll get through this and come back. We love him," Aviva Schalit said. Defense Minister Ehud Barak also spoke of Schalit on Tuesday, during a tour of the Shivta army base in the Negev. He said he was doing his best to secure Gilad's release but that the process was best conducted in secret. It was his second public statement to that effect in two days. "There isn't a day that passes that I don't think about Gilad Schalit and that we don't act on the matter," the defense minister said. "We are working on many different channels. It's true that so far we have not returned him, but we are planning to accelerate our efforts. All efforts and negotiations that would return him are justified and are part of our responsibility," he said. "Last week I was in Alexandria. I met with Egyptian President [Hosni] Mubarak, [Egyptian Intelligence chief] Omar Suleiman, and the Egyptian leadership," Barak said. "The matter of Gilad Schalit was the central issue. The ministerial committee [met on Sunday] to discuss the names [of Hamas prisoners slated for release]. We want to succeed." Barak warned, however, that public disclosure of details regarding negotiations with Hamas would be counterproductive. "We must give a strong hug and public support to the family, but it is impossible to reveal details to the public when negotiations are being renewed," he said. "We must conduct [talks] under a blackout to maximize the chances of success." Still, "right now there are no negotiations," but work is nevertheless being done on the matter, he said. The defense minister pointed to the Gaza cease-fire as a step in the right direction, saying that aside from ensuring the start of the school year in Gaza periphery communities, it "allowed the matter of Schalit to be discussed in earnest." Israel's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Roni Leshno Yaar, met this week with the International Committee of the Red Cross there and brought up the issue of Schalit. The ICRC posted an interview with Aviva and Noam Schalit on its Web site on Saturday in which they expressed frustration that the organization had not been able to do more for their son. "I am disappointed that the ICRC is unable to impose its humanitarian agenda on a Palestinian organization and compel it to comply with the Geneva Conventions and international humanitarian law. We would like the ICRC to be more assertive, more active and more persuasive," Noam said. "After all, Hamas often relies on the ICRC for humanitarian matters, so we were expecting that, similarly, the ICRC would succeed in getting what it needs and wants from Hamas. The problem is that consent and cooperation are essential for the ICRC and when both are lacking, there is not much it can do," he said. Aviva said the "ICRC must continue trying and not give up. Even if it can only achieve one millimeter of progress, it's still worth it."