To the sound of beating drums, Yoel Schalit set up a plastic gray tent Tuesday night on the sidewalk outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem home to mark the 1,500th day since his younger brother, IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, was kidnapped by Hamas.
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It is one of six small new tents erected for activists who, as of Tuesday, plan to sleep there nightly, next to the larger white protest tent the family has occupied since they arrived in the capital on July 8, after an 11-day trek from their Mitzpe Hila home in the Upper Galilee.
The family does not intend to leave the tent until Gilad is freed.
The inauguration of the new tent city ended a day of protest events that underscored the length of Gilad’s captivity in Gaza and the fact that Tuesday was Gilad’s Hebrew birthday.
As Yoel and his girlfriend Yaara Winkler spread out the gray plastic tarp, activists chanted, “today is Gilad’s birthday.”
In the morning Gilad’s parents, Noam and Aviva, held a press conference at the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem and appealed to the people of Gaza to pressure their leaders to finalize a prisoner swap for Gilad.
“I appeal to the Palestinian people [in advance] of the Ramadan holiday that will start next week,” said Noam.
A deal to free his son in exchange for the release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners is on the table, and should be executed, said Noam.
“We are asking that you pressure your leaders, just as we have pressured ours, to advance the existing deal to swap prisoners,” said Noam.
“If these 1,000 prisoners – who are your sons, your brothers, and your husbands – could be freed, they could be home to celebrate the sacred holiday [Ramadan] with their families,” said Noam.
These families, he said, have been harmed by the absence of their loved ones, just as his has been harmed by the separation from Gilad.
He told reporters that the deal on the table had been hammered out by a German mediator and was not the initiative of either side.
“Both sides are waiting, but I do not know what they are waiting for. We believe that [continued public] pressure in the long run will do the job,” said Noam.
One reporter wanted to know if Noam felt it was right to risk the death of Israelis at the hands of Palestinians who would be released, given that some of them had killed Israelis in the past.
In response, Noam said, “I am not a philosopher, I am the father of a young boy who was kidnapped.”
Another reporter asked what price would he consider to high for his son’s release.
Noam responded, “the life of a young boy is not like a real estate deal, where the price goes up and down according to the movement of the market.”
He added that 1,500 days was enough time for the government to figure out a way to bring his son home.
In the afternoon, activists formed a human chain around the city block on which the protest tent is located. They wore numbers on their chest for the days of Gilad’s captivity and masks with a photograph of the young man’s face.
There was also a street performance based on a story Gilad wrote as a child, When the Shark and the Fish First Met
, which was published after his captivity.
During a rally held that evening by the tent, Gilad’s brother Yoel said that the officers who knocked on the door of his Haifa apartment 1,500 days ago, forever changed his life and that of his family.
It has been 36,000 hours, 2,160,000 minutes and 129,600,000 seconds
since Gilad was kidnapped, said Yoel.
“From this platform this evening with the inauguration of the tent city,
I call on the prime minister to immediately free my brother. In two
more days, it will be four weeks that we have sat in the protest tent in
Jerusalem. This Sunday it will be six weeks since we left our home in
“Today we are marking Gilad’s birthday, his fifth in captivity. On
Saturday night, August 28, we will mark his birthday on the Gregorian
calendar with a rally in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv.
“I call on you, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, do not let us spend
the [New Year] holidays in the protest tent and do not leave us here in
the winter cold.
"To you, my little brother, hold on just a little bit longer.”