Peres expresses ‘kinship’ with Schalits

President joins Israelis across the country in five minutes of silence to demonstrate solidarity with captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.

Five Miniute silence Gilad Schalit 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Five Miniute silence Gilad Schalit 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
President Shimon Peres joined Israelis across the country on Tuesday in five minutes of silence to demonstrate solidarity with captive IDF soldier Gilad Schalit, at the third Negev Conference in Eilat.
Peres, who has met with the Schalit family on several occasions and who maintains frequent contact with them, was among the first to adopt the idea proposed by Rishon Lezion resident Kobi Sidi, who got annoyed with his friends for switching the TV channel from a discussion about Gilad Schalit to Big Brother. Sidi, angry that his friends were more interested in the shallow reality show than in the serious business of Schalit, came up with idea of bringing the nation to a halt, observing one minute of silence for every year that Schalit has been a prisoner of Hamas in Gaza.
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Sidi advanced his initiative through Facebook, and it spread like wildfire. Peres, like tens of thousands of others, embraced the concept.
“The whole nation is united in the hope and in the desire that Gilad Schalit will be here among us hale and healthy,” Peres said at Tuesday’s conference, underscoring that for five years, the whole nation had carried the hope in its heart that Schalit would return.
Flanked by Vice Premier and Minister for Regional Development Silvan Shalom and Immigrant Absorption Minister Sofa Landver, Peres addressed himself to Schalit’s parents, grandfather and siblings.
“Today we feel a kinship with you,” he said. “Gilad is a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces. The state as a whole will not be silent and will not rest until he comes home. The negotiations for his release are difficult and painful. We are struggling against a lawless and heartless organization.”
Nonetheless, Peres was optimistic that the day would not be long in coming when Schalit was at last among his people.
Shalom decided to hold the conference in Eilat because it coincided with the 62nd anniversary of the city’s founding and the raising of the Ink Flag, after the conquest of Umm Rashrash during the War of Independence.
Peres, 87, recalled the region as he had seen it with his own eyes, even before the establishment of the state.
“Sixty-seven years ago, I crossed the Negev at the head of a team of Working Youth and Palmahniks,” he recounted. They had walked from what is now Revivim to what is now Eilat. The journey had taken a month. Eilat did not exist in those days, Peres told the city’s Mayor Meir Yitzhak Halevy.
Comparing the past with the present, Peres remarked on what a joy it was to come to Eilat today, even in the knowledge that Halevy had to cope with new and troubling challenges.
The president said that founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion had been the first Zionist leader to look southwards and see in the Negev a future district for the people of Israel.
Ben-Gurion realized that the narrow strip of land between Jaffa and Haifa that encompassed the bulk of the population could not endure indefinitely without the broad expanse of the Negev hinterland.
It was high time to develop the Negev, Peres said, but not at the expense of its scenic beauty. He enthused about expanding settlements and desert agriculture, bringing hi-tech industries to the area and building the infrastructure that would help to bring the Negev closer to the Center of the country.