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The father of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit has spoken of his dismay at the “failure” of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to secure the release of his son, 1,000 days after he was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists in 2006.
Noam Shalit revealed his disappointment over the government’s efforts in an interview with the Jewish News yesterday, in the protest tent he and his family have set up outside the premier’s official residence in Jerusalem.
“It seems that Prime Minister Olmert is trying to create an alibi for his failure to resolve this crisis of Gilad after almost three years,” Noam said, just a few hours after the PM announced to a hopeful public that indirect negotiations between Israel and Hamas had broken down.
Over the previous days there had been a feeling of relative optimism in the Shalit tent, as Olmert’s negotiators travelled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian mediators and tried to conclude a deal with the Hamas leaders responsible for holding the 24-year-old soldier.
However, on Tuesday, the prime minister held a special press conference where he announced that there are “red lines” Israel will not cross in terms of releasing dangerous terrorist prisoners in exchange for Shalit.
Noam slammed Olmert’s comments. “He came out with a declaration yesterday, but we expect prime ministers to do things, to take assertive actions and not to make declarations and look for explanations for his failure,” he said with a look of deep disappointment.
The question of how many and which prisoners Israel should free in return for the young corporal has become a matter of massive public debate in Israel, especially in recent weeks as Olmert’s premiership has neared its final days.
On Tuesday, for the first time, the Prime Minister‘s Office published the names of ten terrorists it had been willing to release, as long as they would not be allowed to return to the West Bank, and ten more it would not free due to the threat they posed to national security.
Among those Israel refused to release were Abdullah Barghouti who had been given 67 life sentences for his role in a number of terror attacks including the bombings of the Sbarro restaurant and Moment Café in Jerusalem in 2001.
Noam would not discuss the government’s list, saying only: “I am not dealing with the price. For me, they can release only one prisoner, it is ok.”
While many Israelis question the Shalits’ tactics, fearing any prisoner release could lead to more terrorist attacks, the family’s public protest has garnered massive support and media coverage.
“The tent was meant to test public opinion to see if the people of Israel are supporting us,” Noam said. “It definitely showed the Israeli people are supporting us. There have been thousands of people coming by and showing their solidarity.”
Among the visitors have been neighbours of the Shalit family, who live in the Moshav of Mitzpe Hila in the Western Galilee. Bar Zrian, 24, who lives next door to the Shalits and grew up with Gilad described him as “a quiet boy”.
“He is calm, he likes sports. Maybe he was a little naive because we grew up in a small place in the Galilee,” she said.
As for the campaign to have him released, she mused: “It has been very hard because we can’t really do anything practical. You can talk and go to all kinds of protests but that’s really all.
“I think, to really want him back home isn’t related to any political view.”
• Was Olmert right not to agree to release certain prisoners to secure Gilad Shalit’s freedom? Vote in our poll at www.totallyjewish.com/news1,000 Days by Jeremy Last