shalit, gilad, 298 ap.
(photo credit: AP)
"I didn't even call him after hearing of the Kerem Shalom attack. I didn't think he was in that area. He was supposed to be in the north," Noam Shalit, father of kidnapped IDF soldier Cpl. Gilad Shalit said Monday morning.
Shalit told Army Radio that his son had chosen to serve in a tank unit since he had a relatively low profile.
He said that Gilad was in the IDF for 11 months and was enjoying his service.
Shalit said that he hoped that the kidnappers were treating with his son in the same way Israel treated Palestinian prisoners adding, "I hope that those holding Gilad have wives and families so they know how we are feeling."
In an expression of their deep concern, Noam and his wife, Aviva, published a letter to their son, with a message to his abductors.
"Mom and dad, Yoel and Hadas [his siblings], are worried about you very much," the letter said. "We want to hear you and hope you are feeling well... Know that we are constantly thinking about you.
"We believe that whoever is holding you has a family as well, and knows what we are going through."
Noam Shalit said that the family was encouraged by the knowledge that Gilad was forced to walk against his will during the incident rather than being dragged away by his assailants.
"I told the family that we know Gilad was forced to walk against his will during the incident. We believe he is alive and being held captive," OC Manpower Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern had told the family in their hometown of Mitzpe Hila, near Karmiel in the western Galilee.
Shalit told Israel Radio that the family believed that the army and the government were doing everything possible to secure his son's release, and that they hoped to hear good news as soon as possible.
"Hope is what we have left. We hope to hear signs of life and we hope Gilad is making it through these tough moments," Shalit said.
Neighbors of the family described the Shalits as "extremely quiet, gentle and nice," and said they were aghast after hearing about his capture. The family were keeping to themselves, and "it's so sad to hear about them for such a terrible reason," according to a neighbor.
The family were among the founders of the small community of Mitzpe Hila in the Lower Galilee, a popular retreat for Israelis seeking bed and breakfast establishments in the country's north.
"He's such a great kid," said the neighbor. "This is very hard for all of us. We are in shock since we heard about the incident," she said.
Her daughter, who attended school with Gilad, was visiting the family together with other members of the community. Shalit's family, like many others in the village, also rents out cabins.
"He's one of the funniest people I've ever met," Shalit's friend Dor Peled told Israel Radio. "He loves sports, soccer; he's very athletic." Peled said. He added that Shalit was a good friend, who had never done anyone a bad turn.
A student who excelled in mathematics, Shalit once sat with him for two hours before an exam, Peled said.
"What I couldn't learn in weeks he taught me in a couple of hours."
"The atmosphere here is very tense, but we are hoping for good news," Peled said.
Ilana Zrihen, another neighbor, said the family was just waiting to hear that their son would be home soon. "Gilad is a magical kid, quiet and cheerful, everyone's friend," she told Israel Radio. "May he come home soon," she added.
A military spokesman assisting the family related that Shalit's brigade commander Col. Moshe Asulin, who was present when the incident occurred, had visited the family and briefed them on the day's events. Maj.-Gen. Elazar Stern, head of the IDF's human resources branch, also visited the family, the spokesman said.
In Jerusalem, thousands gathered at the Western Wall to pray for Shalit's safe return.