Sarkozy to Gilad Schalit: ‘France has not forgotten you’

Hundreds mark soldier’s 6th birthday spent in captivity in march from Erez crossing in northern Gaza.

Noam Schalit at rally 311 (photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
Noam Schalit at rally 311
(photo credit: Tovah Lazaroff)
To mark Gilad Schalit’s 25th birthday, his sixth as a prisoner in Gaza, France and the US on Sunday sent words of support to his parents, as hundreds rallied with them throughout the day to demand his freedom.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy wrote a personal letter to the young man, who holds both French and Israeli citizenship.
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“My dear Gilad,” Sarkozy wrote. “France has not forgotten you. The opposite. We are close to you, especially on this sad birthday, which you have been prevented by your captors from experiencing as a free man, with those who love you.”
Schalit cannot receive letters in Gaza where he has been held by Hamas since he was kidnapped in June 2006, at age 19, as he patrolled the southern border. So acting French Ambassador Nicolas Roche personally delivered the missive to Schalit’s parents, Noam and Aviva, as they sat in a protest tent near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
“During a period in which the Middle East is experiencing tremendous upheavals in the name of liberty and human dignity, your freedom has been denied,” Sarkozy wrote.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé also penned a letter to Schalit’s parents; Roche delivered it as well.
In it, Juppé assured them that France would continue its efforts on the young man’s behalf. He noted that no other French citizen has been held hostage as long as Schalit has.
“France will never give up. She will remain mobilized until Gilad Schalit is freed and returned to his family,” Juppé wrote.
Separately, United States Ambassador Dan Shapiro visited Noam and Aviva in the Jerusalem tent to express both his personal support and that of his government’s for the battle to free Schalit.
Noam then traveled down south, to participate in a small ceremony near the spot where his son was captured, near the Kerem Shalom crossing to southern Gaza.
He then met hundreds of activists at the Yad Mordechai junction. Together they marched to the Erez crossing to northern Gaza, where they held a small rally.
As Palestinians held their luggage and headed toward the crossing to enter the Strip, activists gathered to the side of the gate to call for Schalit’s release. They held signs that read, “Gilad is alone,” “Can you only return from captivity in a coffin?” and “Gilad also wants social justice.”
Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Meir Yisrael Lau offered to trade places with Schalit. “I’m willing to be a bargaining chip instead of Gilad,” he said.
The only parliamentarian who arrived at the rally was MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud), who has opposed a prisoner swap to free Schalit and stated so in her remarks.
The family and their supporters have urged the government to free 1,000 security prisoners, including those responsible for fatal terrorist attacks against Israelis. There is more that the government can do to free Schalit, Hotovely said, but that involves steps to weaken Hamas and not freeing terrorists.
Hotovely told the activists at the rally that other options to pressure Hamas existed, including halting the handover of funds to the Palestinian Authority and imposing harsher conditions on security prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Hotovely later told The Jerusalem Post that she had been invited to the demonstration by the Schalit family, despite her positions, in an attempt to widen the circle of support for the battle to free Gilad.
Noam said that the government, which Hotovely is a part of, has torpedoed the measures that she has advocated.