'Dear Schalit family, don't let them sacrifice Gilad'

Ron Arad's brother makes rare public appearance at ceremony marking two years to the day since Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas.

gilad schalit 2 298.88 (photo credit: Channel 2)
gilad schalit 2 298.88
(photo credit: Channel 2)
Chen Arad fantasized that his brother, Ron, captured when his jet crashed in Lebanon 22 years ago, stood with him in Mitzpe Hila on Wednesday as Chen made a rare public appearance to speak at a ceremony marking two years to the day since Gilad Schalit was captured by Hamas. Standing on a small stage in Schalit's Upper Galilee hometown, wearing jeans and a checkered shirt, the tall, gray haired Chen said, "I thought that if Ron had been released from captivity, he would have come here today." "Ron would have stood on this stage, in my place. He would have comforted Noam and Aviva [Schalit, parents of Gilad] with the idea that there is someone they can depend on, because after all, I [Ron] have returned. The State of Israel does not abandon those it sends to defend its borders. "To my sorrow, it was just my fantasy," Chen said as he read from a single white sheet. "After 22 years I cannot comprehend that all that is left from Ron is just a few letters and photos that were sent to us from his captivity." A year after Ron Arad was captured, he sent the family a letter that Chen decided to read out loud at Wednesday's event marking the failure of the government to return yet another soldier. "Today is Sunday. I think it is the first day of Rosh Hashana. I have to tell you that I miss you very much," Chen read from the letter. In front of him were Schalit's parents, as well as the parents of Ehud Goldwasser and the father of Eldad Regev, both of whose sons were kidnapped by Hizbullah while on reserve duty on the northern border in July 2006. "Sometimes I dream about you, but I try not to think too much during these days so that I won't be depressed," Ron wrote back in 1987, adding that his health was good and improving. "I pray every day for many hours and I hope that you do as well. I know that it is hard to ask but try to do everything that you can for me. "Speak with our leaders. Speak with the government. Speak with everyone that you can to get me out of here," Ron wrote. Chen paused and then added that the words his brother penned so many years ago "expressed the pain of someone who is hanging by a thread, totally helpless, dependent on the mercy" of others, particularly those who sent him into battle. Ron, he said, volunteered to be an IAF navigator and not a martyr or a gladiator. But Israel's leaders sacrificed him and, like the ancient caesars, threw him to the lions. "My dear Schalit family, don't let them sacrifice Gilad," Chen Arad said. He compared Gilad Schalit's situation to that of Isaac on the altar, when his father Abraham stood over him with a sword. "But God stayed his hand. Our leaders, apparently, lack this divine voice," he said. Aviva Schalit had also planned to also take the stage, but at the last moment her voice failed her. So her husband, Noam, read her prepared statement instead. She urged the government and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to bring her son home, to free him from his horrible prison. "It is enough of the foot-dragging, you had all the time in the world to decide," she said in her letter. She asked all those assembled to close their eyes and to silently imagine where Gilad might be and what he might be thinking as he sits alone in Gaza. Even the small children sitting cross-legged on the grass closed their eyes and were quiet. All that could be heard was the rustling of the wind in the trees and the click of the camera shutters. White doves were then released from two wicker baskets. An organizer said he hoped that soon they would gather again to celebrate Gilad's release with the song, "How good it is to see you home" whose strains then filled the air.