(photo credit: www.bringthemback.net)
Tens of thousands of students participated in events at more than 90 sites worldwide on Tuesday, calling for the release of captive IDF soldiers Ehud Goldwasser, Eldad Regev and Gilad Schalit.
The rallies, petition signings and other awareness-raising events were largely organized by students as part of an International Day of Solidarity, coordinated by the World Zionist Organization and the Jewish Agency.
It marked the largest demonstrations by Diaspora Jews to free the IDF soldiers since they were kidnapped in June and July 2006.
Most of the events took place on college campuses in North America, organized by students in conjunction with the Hillel Foundation and other student organizations. In the US, 36 campuses held gatherings, including Brown University in Rhode Island, Virginia Tech and the University of Arizona, as did six in Canada, including Toronto's York University. There were more than two dozen events outside of North American, in places ranging from Buenos Aires to Amsterdam to Kiev.
Synagogues recited a special prayer written by Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, and many planned to hold programs dedicated to the missing soldiers.
The organizers of the International Day of Solidarity are determined to prod the world into action. "The goal of the day is twofold: to show our solidarity with the captured soldiers and to gain support from the international community," said Roi Abecassis, director of the WZO's Hagshama Department, which works with young Jewish adults. To this end, campus rallies were coordinated with human rights organizations, and other demonstrations were held in front of embassies and EU buildings. The call to release the soldiers was directed at Iran, Syria, the UN, the EU and human rights organizations.
Amos Hermon, chairman of the Jewish Agency's Education Committee, stressed the importance of placing continuous pressure on Syrian and Iranian embassies. Their clients captured the three men - Hamas in the case of Schalit, and Hizbullah in the case of Goldwasser and Regev.
"We know that every fax and every phone call that Syria and Iran receive from their ambassadors around the world has an impact," Hermon said. "If we keep these demonstrations moving, something will be moved... There is no precedent in our times for a situation like this, where kidnap victims are held for over a year with no cooperation from the Red Cross and no information to the family."
Many human rights organizations have taken up the cause, and several countries have raised the issue in their legislatures. "We will keep the demonstrations and efforts coming, and hopefully every country in the world will put this issue on its agenda," Hermon said.
The largest rally took place in front of the United Nations in New York. More than 1,000 college and high school students called for action from the UN. Many held Israeli flags and signs that read: "Bring our sons home" and "Don't let apathy kill them."
Miki Goldwasser, Ehud Goldwasser's mother, spoke to the rally from Israel via telephone. Ehud's wife, Karnit addressed 20 campuses and communities by live video feed Tuesday night.
The events were launched Sunday at a rally at the Jerusalem International Convention Center. The crowd of 3,200 was addressed by Karnit Goldwasser and Jewish Agency Chairman Ze'ev Bielski. "The world is not doing enough to bring these boys back," Bielski told the protesters.