'Gaza restrictions are the last card'

Schalit family calls for more pressure, organizes trek for Gilad.

Noam Schalit speaking 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Noam Schalit speaking 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Noam and Aviva Schalit begged the government Monday not to abandon their son Gilad when debating measures to ease economic restrictions against Gaza.
“Such restrictions are the last card we have to pressure Hamas,” which has held the soldier, 23, captive in Gaza since June 25, 2006, Noam Schalit told reporters at a Tel Aviv press conference.
The international community has heavily pressured Israel to fully open the three land crossings into Gaza, which have been closed to all but humanitarian aid since Hamas’s bloody coup in 2007.
Israel, over the past few years, has partially conditioned such an opening on the soldier’s release. Abandoning this condition without finding a way to release him would have dangerous implications, warned Shimshon Leibman, who heads the Campaign to Free Gilad.
On Sunday, the Schalits met with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a meeting Noam Schalit said he had left without a sense of optimism. On Monday, he lobbied politicians in the Knesset, including Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, National Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, Intelligence Services Minister Dan Meridor and Minister for the Development of the Negev and the Galilee Silvan Shalom.
“We left very sad,” said Leibman.
In light of recent developments and to mark four years since their son’s kidnapping, the Schalits announced earlier in the day that they had planned an 11-day trek from their home in the upper Galilee town of Mitzpe Hila.
“We are heading out on a campaign to save our son,” said Noam Schalit.
There are numerous scheduled stops along the way in cities such as Nahariya, Acre, Haifa, Hadera, Netanyahu, Tel Aviv and Beit Shemesh. Upon reaching Jerusalem, they intend to sit in the protest tent already situated near the prime minister’s residence.
“We won’t return home until our son is with us,” said Noam Schalit.
Under the slogan “Everyone can take a small step for Gilad,” they have encouraged the public to join them on their march when they start out on June 27, and any time throughout the trek.
Their arrival in Jerusalem would mark the second time they have sat in protest outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. In March 2009, they stayed in the tent in hopes of pressuring former prime minister Ehud Olmert to finalize a prisoner swap before he left office. When these efforts failed, they returned home.
Hope was revived in December 2009, when it appeared that a deal could be reached in which Hamas would swap Gilad Schalit for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails, including some with blood on their hands.
In the past few months, Noam Schalit has blamed both Hamas and the Israeli government for the deal’s failure.
On Monday, during the Tel Aviv press conference, he said that both Olmert’s government and Netanyahu’s could have done more.
“Two governments sacrificed my son, and with [him] their ethicalobligation to the soldiers in this country not to abandon them in thefield,” said Schalit.
He vowed that the Schalit family would not wait another year to seeGilad, nor would it stay silent in the interim. He urged the governmentto finalize a prisoner swap with Hamas to release his son.
Irrespective of his son’s fate, he said, Israel would eventuallyrelease these terrorists “in one political constellation or another, inone deal or another.”
The question, he said, was not whether Israel would release these terrorists, but when.
History has shown that “if Gilad does not return, they will still be released,” he added.
Noam Schalit referred to the story of airman Ron Arad, who disappearedafter successfully bailing out over southern Lebanon in 1986. For twoyears, until Arad vanished in 1988, Israel wrangled over the terms ofhis release.
Since then, noted Schalit, terrorists who had been held to trade for Arad had been freed.
To those who argued that Israelis had been killed by terroristsreleased in past swaps, he said, he believed that the IDF was strongenough to prevent such attacks.
He added that even without Gilad, Israel had released hundreds ofterrorists in the past few years, including some belonging to Hamas.
“It’s been 1,450 days, four long years, since Gilad was taken into captivity,” said Noam Schalit.
He asked people to reflect on where they were four years ago and thechanges in their lives since then, so that they could properlyunderstand the significance of the passage of this time.
“We are calling on the public to support us in our fight to save Gilad,” he said.