311_ Metzger and Schalit.
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger prayed for the swift return of Gilad Schalit Monday night at a special reading of the Book of Lamentations with the captive soldier’s parents and their supporters near the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem.
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Metzger sat on a low plastic stool, next to Schalit’s father, Noam, and mother, Aviva. Supporters sat on the ground around them. Some lit candles and others held up cell phones so they could read the text, which described the destruction of the Temple 2,000 years ago.
“It was senseless hate that brought down the Temple,” said Metzger. “But those who have gathered here tonight came out of love.”
The link between love and pain, he said, was brought home to him by a conversation he once overheard between two people, in which one said, “If you do not know what hurts me, then you do not love me.”
In the Bible, the chief rabbi related, God asks Moses to take off his shoes so he can feel the thorns and the stone. Those who support the Schalit family, he said, feel their pain. Metzger said his own mother asks about the captive soldier all the time, as if he were her own son or grandson.
The reading of Lamentations at the start of the fast of Tisha Be’av marked the end of a long day for the Schalits, who began their morning by meeting EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton at the city’s King David Hotel.
Ashton was wrapping up a three-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories that included a trip to Gaza and to the southern Israeli town of Sderot, which has suffered through hundreds of rocket attacks from the nearby Gaza Strip. She arrived in the region shortly after Israel agreed to allow non-humanitarian goods into Gaza by land. In the past, it had insisted that only humanitarian goods be allowed to enter until Hamas agreed to release Schalit, who has been held there for more than four years. Israel has now dropped this demand.
During her visit, Ashton called on Israel to fully open the land crossings into Gaza, and for Hamas to free Schalit.
“In everything that we do, in all the statements that I have made, in all of my meetings, the issue of Gilad Schalit’s release is part of what we are demanding,” Ashton said after she met with the captive soldier’s parents. “It is, in my view, absolutely essential that we never forget that the needs of this young man are part of our desire to see peace in this area.... And I just want to pay tribute to his incredibly brave parents who are living in a very difficult situation. I wish them well and I really hope that we will see them reunited with their son as quickly as possible.”
Noam Schalit, however, said that Ashton should demand the “release of my son Gilad as a humanitarian gesture” before she insists that Israel make any gestures to the people in Gaza. He told reporters he had not been able to convince her that his son’s release should have been a pre-condition to easing the restrictions on the flow of goods into Gaza. He also noted that Gilad, who holds dual Israeli-French citizenship, is a citizen of the European Union, and said that while the EU did not have formal ties with Hamas, there were many avenues it could use to pressure the group.
Since July 9, Noam and Aviva Schalit have been sitting in the Jerusalem protest tent as part of a major push to pressure the Israeli government to release 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in return for their son. Prior to the sit-in, they marched for 11 days with thousands of supporters from their home in the Upper Galilee town of Mitzpe Hila to the capital. They have sworn not to leave Jerusalem until their son is released.
On Monday morning, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat joined them in the tent and told them he supported their civic battle on behalf of their son.
“The government has not done everything it can,” said Barkat, who added that “we all want him to come home quickly.”
One mother, Esti Eshet, who had come from Kfar Warburg, said of Gilad:
“He has become everyone’s son.” She recalled how her own son, now in his
30s, would worry as he lay in bed as a child that one day, when he was a
soldier, he would be kidnapped.
“I told him that when you are big, there won’t be an army,” said Eshet.
A woman sitting next to her, Yaffa Lachanovich of Rishon Lezion,
described how her family had survived the suicide bombing at the Park
Hotel in Netanya on the night of the first Seder in 2002. Although 30
people were killed and more than 100 wounded in the attack – which was
carried out by Hamas – she said their table had not been harmed.
“It was a huge miracle.” Turning to Noam, she added that “there are many
miracles, and I hope there will be one for Gilad and that we will see
him home soon.”