noam Schalit cap 248.88.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
With a prayer and the national anthem, Noam and Aviva Schalit ended their two-week vigil in front of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem residence on Saturday night with a small ceremony.
As he looked at the small crowd of supporters, friends and neighbors from his hometown of Mitzpe Hila in the Upper Galilee who drove down to join the Schalit family, Noam addressed his captive son Gilad, 22.
"It is not over, my dear Gilad," he said.
Behind him, hanging off the white tent he and his wife had pitched on the sidewalk, was a sign with the number 1,000 - the number of days Gilad has been held in Gaza.
Since June 25, 2006, Noam Schalit said, "We, and you, are living in a nightmare and with a lack of uncertainty regarding your fate.
"It's been 1,000 days, in which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who sent you on the mission [during which you were kidnapped], has not been able to find a way to bring you home. We are not even close to that day," Schalit said.
He described how he, his family and their supporters had come to the capital in a last-ditch effort to push Olmert to conclude a prisoner swap for Gilad before he left office.
Though Olmert's term has been extended by two weeks, since Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu has asked for more time to conduct coalition negotiations, the Schalit family decided to end the vigil on the 1,000th day of Gilad's captivity and to continue the campaign from their home.
Even though the efforts of Israeli negotiators in Cairo last week failed, Schalit said to Olmert, "You have another two weeks to act to save Gilad... before it is too late.
"Do not create any more committees of learned academics and do not give excuses as to why it is impossible. You had three years to do this when we were not sitting here in the tent.
"Gilad does not have to bear on his narrow shoulders the greater security matters of Israel. He has already done this for 1,000 days," Schalit said.
During their time in Jerusalem, they received support from thousands of visitors, including from many who lost their loved ones in terrorist attacks or in kidnappings, soldiers who had been captives, teens who were about to be drafted into the army and all who believe in the principle that one does not abandon a soldier on the battlefield, Schalit said.
"We received the warm embraces of thousands who voted with their feet and came from all over the country," he said.
"They all said clearly: We want Gilad home now. Not in another 1,000 days and not even another 100," Schalit said.
He quoted Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz, who, when he was IDF Chief of General Staff, said, "A nation that forgets it soldiers is likely to be a nation that is forgotten by its soldiers."
To his son, Schalit said, "It's not over. We will continue until you come home."
He was joined at the concluding ceremony by novelist Meir Shalev, who also took issue with the prime minister's failure to return Gilad.
"He [Olmert] went to war quickly, but when it came to Gilad, he has all the time in the world," said Shalev, who added that the only thing Olmert appeared able to do was to point an accusing finger in the direction of the family.
When Olmert speaks of red lines, he does not mean principles, but rather the haggling over another couple of prisoners, he said. "How many [Palestinian security] prisoners is Gilad's life worth?" he asked.
The speakers were interspersed with a rendition of the Rosh Hashana prayer, "Our Father, Our King, be gracious with us."
A recording of Gilad's voice, spliced to state the following words, was also played: "I am the soldier Gilad... save me!"
At one point, protesters held up yellow glow sticks and waved them in the dark.
Amir Goldshmidt, who had been at the tent for two weeks, said he was four months away from being drafted into an elite unit, and was well aware that he could suffer the same fate as Gilad.
He promised that the tent would continue to be manned by young adults who wanted to do everything possible to secure his release.
"Gilad was drafted for us, now let us be drafted on his behalf," Goldshmidt said.
The Egyptian paper A-Shuruk quoted Hamas political leader Moussa Abu Marzouk on Saturday as saying the Islamist group was ready to renew the negotiations on a prisoner exchange to release Schalit.
He said negotiations in Cairo last week had made major progress and that the movement wanted to seal a deal as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, Egyptian sources quoted by the London-based Al-Hayat said that a final decision on a Schalit deal was "yet to be made."
Such a decision would be made before Olmert leaves office, the sources said.
Israel's announcement on Tuesday that a deal could not be made because Hamas had hardened its position was "a maneuver intended to pressure Hamas," the Egyptian sources said.
The Jerusalem Post could not confirm Al-Hayat's report.
The Campaign to Free Gilad, which organized many of the events of the past two weeks, said activists planned to meet on Sunday to discuss their next moves.
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