As prospects of an exchange grow, Schalit volunteers remain vigilant

As prospects of an excha

On Monday morning, Nilly Bukchin, 70, woke up with a nervous knot in the pit of her stomach, in anticipation of news that captive soldier Gilad Schalit might be released soon. "It's the same feeling that I had before each of my three children were married," said the curly haired mother of three and grandmother of eight. She doesn't know Gilad. Still, she has been so bothered by the thought of an Israeli soldier left in captivity, that for close to two years she has come to Jerusalem by bus from her Kfar Azar home once a month to sit in a protest tent that the young man's supporters have pitched outside the prime minister's residence. On Monday afternoon, in spite of the persistent media reports of Gilad's imminent release, the white plastic tent was mostly empty, save for a few reporters who came to interview her. With no radio or television in sight, she has kept her cell phone close to her in hopes that her husband would call with news that Hamas and Israel have reached a deal by which Palestinian prisoners would be exchanged for Gilad, who has been held captive in Gaza since June 2006. As she spoke with The Jerusalem Post, an Egged bus driver honked in support as he passed. Pasted to the tent walls behind Bukchin, who sat on a folding chair on the Jerusalem sidewalk, were banners and posters from past protest campaigns that stated: "I have been drafted," and "Gilad is still alive." On top of the tent hangs a small sign with the number of days that 22-year-old Gilad has been held by Hamas in Gaza: 1247. For her, like for most Israelis, she said, the story of this young man has become very personal. Her grandson, is due to enter the army soon. Her husband and her son served in combat units. Their fate could have been his, she said. "It could be the story of any soldier in Israel," she said. "From the moment that a son is born here, you already start to worry what will happen once they enter the army. Time passes fast. Her husband and son served with the understanding that the IDF does not leave soldiers in the field, she said. Working on Gilad's behalf is her obligation as a citizen, she said. "This boy has become the child of the nation." "I want to show his parents that we are with them," she said as she sat by a folding table, with petitions supporting the release of Gilad. Next to her sat an American blogger and comedian, Benji Lovitt, who made aliya from Texas. Unlike Bukchin, he was only recently recruited to Schalit's cause, inspired to act after after walking by the tent. "I didn't serve in the army and I was looking for a way to feel Israeli and to do my part to bring him home," he said. Almagor Terror Victims Association on Monday delayed its plans to pitch its own tent outside the prime minister's residence to protest a prison swap for Gilad which would include the release of Hamas terrorists who have killed Israelis. Almagor has said that terrorists released in past deals have killed some 180 Israelis.