The million woman Mother’s Day march

Aviva Schalit should demand to cross into Gaza to see her son – and a million of us women should be standing behind her, on the Israel side, amplifying her plea.

Schalits 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Schalits 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time.
Why shouldn’t Aviva Schalit, mother of our long-imprisoned Gilad, demand to visit her son? No, I’m not suggesting another demonstration near the home of the prime minister.
This demonstration should be at one of the crossings into Gaza. And she shouldn’t go alone.
Foreign journalists should be invited to accompany her into Gaza without the usual visa contretemps.
And a million of us women should be standing behind her, on the Israel side, shouting encouragement, amplifying her plea. The logistics are trivial. We can come by car and bus and moped. Gaza is a short ride away.
I want to propose a date: The upcoming first of Adar. That’s Friday, February 4 – Israel’s Mother’s Day.
Gilad Schalit, was kidnapped on Israeli soil on June 25, 2006. Since then, no one has been allowed to visit him – not his family, not diplomats, not the Red Cross. It’s a subject that fails to gain the attention of the sea voyagers bringing supplies to those they view as the wronged and oppressed victims of Israeli mercilessness.
In a recent column in these pages, Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information co- CEO Gershon Baskin wrote: “After four and a half years, a few kilometers from the border in an area which is under our complete external control, sits an IDF soldier, one of us, one of our children, sent to defend us, in captivity by our enemy with no real sign that he will be coming home in the near future. Before I start on the Prime Minister’s Office, let me assign blame where it really belongs – on Hamas. But criticism of Hamas is not going to pressure it to change its demands for Schalit’s release.”
But why should we assume that Gaza Palestinians are not impacted by international criticism? They are ultimately media-wise and used to basking in their underdog status. Why should we patronize them and underestimate their understanding of the power of photo ops? In the past, they’ve waved away requests for visits as a pretext for locating the well-hidden captive. But everyone knows that Aviva Schalit wouldn’t try to figure out where Gilad is being held to encourage an IDF rescue mission. As much as we fantasize an IDF helicopter whisking Gilad away, no one knows better than his mother that a victim of kidnapping, whether a child or an adult, is ultimately vulnerable.
IN 1994, Nachshon Wachsman was captured, held in Bir Nabala, a village under Israeli control 10 minutes from the Wachsman’s home in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. The exact location was discovered and an attempt to rescue him was made by commandos. Operations always entail risk. The rescue attempt was foiled by an unanticipated steel door, and Nachshon was murdered by the terrorists and commando Nir Poraz killed. No matter how good the intelligence and how great the force, an attempt to free Gilad from the labyrinth of tunnels in the Gaza Strip is simply not feasible.
Nor should the visit be linked with the complex negotiations for Gilad’s release.
Over the last four and a half years, many have offered their service as negotiators – the Egyptians, the French, the Germans. A long list of dignitaries has tried to help: Archbishop Antonio Franco, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and, yes, former US president Jimmy Carter. Today hopes are pinned on emissary Dr. Gerhard Conrad from Germany’s BND security service.
We all know that holding Gilad isn’t just a numbers game. Hamas is looking for a victory that will undermine Fatah and impact Egypt.
The Gazans also enjoy holding the now 24- year-old kidnapped soldier who is the object of pathetic mocking parades and summer camp dramas. Our prime minister has said we’re indeed willing to pay a heavy price, but there are limits to what he can offer. Aviva Schalit shouldn’t have to wait until a deal is struck.
THE SCHALITS have traveled the world and devoted their lives to gathering support for their son’s release. Gilad’s photo hung in the Grenoble City Hall in France. Lights have been turned off in Swiss cathedrals, in the Coliseum, at the Wall in Jerusalem. Gilad is a honorary citizen in Rome, Miami and New Orleans. Maestro Zubin Mehta and supermodel Bar Refaeli have demonstrated for his release. Even the infamous Richard Goldstone fact-finding mission report on the Gaza war called for Gilad’s release.
Ten thousand Israelis marched with the Schalit family last summer from their home in Mitzpe Hila in Western Galilee to Jerusalem, aiming to put pressure on the government to intensify efforts for Gilad’s release. Now it’s time to approach the gates of Gaza.
Let’s turn those TV cameras on the demand of one mother who wants to see her son, in the same way that the most striking image of the struggle for Soviet Jewry was that of Avital Sharansky.
Imagine. Aviva Schalit with a million women behind her at the Gaza border. Aviva Schalit submitting to a body search to show she is not carrying a secret transmitter. Aviva Schalit being blindfolded and led to her son.
Mother’s Day, also called Family Day. The date was chosen because it’s the anniversary of the death of Henrietta Szold. The founder of Hadassah took on the sacred task of finding lodging and care for the thousands of young people who were arriving in pre-state Israel without their families. She often met the boats of boys and girls escaping from Hitler’s Europe.
Many of them would never see their mothers again. So they called Miss Szold, by then in her 70s, ima, momma. Mother’s Day here is not only about honoring mothers, it has also always been about child rescue.
Nor is it about the biological function of mothering. Henrietta Szold never married. She bore no children. Mother’s Day recognizes the far-reaching scope of parenthood.
All of us, a million strong, need to be there behind Aviva: daughters and sisters and mothers and grandmothers, religious and secular, from cities and farms, center and periphery, Arabs and Jews. Is there a subject about which there is more consensus? Let Aviva visit Gilad. Let’s make this Mother’s Day count.
The writer serves as the Israel Director of Public Relations for Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. The views in her columns are her own.