Barak visits Schalits' protest tent

Ron Arad's daughter makes appearance, says from experience she knows changes in gov't problematic.

barak and schalit 248.88 (photo credit: Channel 10)
barak and schalit 248.88
(photo credit: Channel 10)
Noam Schalit, who met Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Monday night, said he was not given any hope that his captive son Gilad would be returned home soon. Barak was highest-level politician to visit Schalit in the protest tent he set up Sunday outside Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's Jerusalem home - a last-ditch effort to pressure Olmert to free his son from the hands of Hamas before leaving office in the next few weeks. Olmert and Barak have been at odds over how to proceed with the deal for Gilad Schalit's release. Hamas has demanded the release of 1,400 prisoners, including many who have been involved in serious terror attacks against Israelis. Israel has yet to fully accede to this demand, although it has offered modified prisoner lists. In the last two months, Olmert has also sought to link Schalit's release to the movement of goods and people into Gaza - a move Barak has opposed. Noam Schalit and his supporters have urged the government to take all measures, including the release of Hamas prisoners, to secure Gilad's release. On Monday night, as supporters chanted, "We want Gilad home now," Barak entered the protest tent, which had been emptied before his arrival, and spoke quietly with Noam. At first they sat on folding chairs, then stood up and, with their backs to the cameras, spoke for over 10 minutes. Barak left without addressing to the media. Noam said only that he had received no additional information from Barak that would lead him to believe that the matter of his son's release was advancing. He added that he had not discussed with Barak the rumor reported by a Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Jarida, that on a short trip to the Gaza Strip last week, senior Hamas official Musa Abu Marzouk had been given a videotape of the captive soldier. The tape reportedly showed the soldier to be in good health. Both the Prime Minister's Office and Noam Schalit had said they have no knowledge of the tape. As to the significance of Barak's visit to the tent, Schalit said, the only way for him to measure its impact was to see his son return home after 988 days in captivity. Noam has said that he intends to remain in the tent until Olmert leaves office, demanding that the prime minister fulfill the obligation he had taken upon himself when Gilad was first kidnapped to return him to his family. In his vigil, Noam has been joined by hundreds of visitors, including politicians from Israel Beiteinu, the Likud and Meretz, as well relatives of soldiers kidnapped in the past. He is scheduled to meet with President Shimon Peres on Tuesday. Karnit Goldwasser, who fought the government for two years to make a deal with Hizbullah for the return of her husband Ehud, who, it emerged, had been killed in battle, came to the tent Monday to speak to Schalit. "As one who has been in this battle, I came to be supportive," she said. In the evening, missing airman Ron Arad's brother Chen and daughter Yuval visited to add their voices to those who urging Olmert to take action. Arad was held captive in Lebanon after surviving a plane crash in 1986, but disappeared without a trace in May 1988. Yuval Arad, 23, said, "We believe that brave decisions have to be taken to return Gilad as quickly as possible. Time is critical, and we have to act quickly." In her father's case, she said, it was problematic that the government had changed hands in the middle of the negotiations, since subsequent governments felt less of a sense of responsibility. Therefore, she said, the government that was in place when Gilad was taken has to be the one that secures his release. Chen Arad added that "a government that sends a soldier on a mission has to know what its policy is and not play games." Aside from the well-known visitors, teens from a Haifa youth group visited Schalit and presented him with a song they had written, composed and recorded, urging the government to take action. Across the street, on the corner in front of the Restobar café, a small number of protesters who oppose the release of Hamas prisoners - particularly those involved in serious attacks against Israelis - continued their mostly solitary vigil. To mark the seventh anniversary of the suicide bombing that killed 11 people at the Moment Café, which had once been at that same corner, posters with silhouettes for each victim were hung on the steel traffic fence. Memorial candles were set up on a small folding table near the security guard. According to Almagor, the Terror Victims Association, one of the terrorists due to be released in a prisoner swap was behind the Moment Café attack. Among the few who gravitated toward the counter-protest was Jerusalem resident and combat reservist Yaron Toran. If he were to be kidnapped while serving in the IDF, he said, he would not want to be freed if it meant releasing terrorists who would kill more Israelis, he said. Toran said he had taken this issue to the Internet, where he had started a Web site and a petition against a prisoner swap for Gilad Schalit. Glancing in the direction of the Schalit protest tent, he said that if a loved one of his were taken, he would likely urge the government to do everything, including a prisoner swap. But the understandable emotional response was not always the correct one, he added. Three teens who walked by argued with him that they believed Schalit should be released. The army has a responsibility to its soldiers, said one 14-year-old girl, asking how it could expect the soldiers to risk their lives when it would not do its utmost to bring those soldiers home. "How would you feel," asked Toran, "if as a result of such a deal, terrorists were released who then turned around and killed Israelis. If you were prime minister, could you make such a deal, knowing that it would lead to certain death for many others?"