The facts are stark and remarkably simple. 1825 days ago, 19 year old Corporal Gilad Shalit was kidnapped whilst on active duty on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza. Gilad and his unit were attacked by members of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam, the armed wing of terrorist organisation Hamas. Staff Sergeant Pavel Slutzker and Lieutenant Hanan Barak were killed by the terrorists and Gilad was dragged back across the border to be held hostage ever since.
For five painful years Gilad has been denied the most basic of human rights. The Red Cross cannot visit him. He is denied any contact with the outside world and there is no way to know whether his physical well being is being maintained. One can only imagine the psychological damage of being held captive for so long and in such conditions. The only signs of life that have been received are two letters, an audio message and a video message, the last of which came in October 2009. Gilad is now 24 years old having spent almost one fifth of his life in captivity.
Gilad's parents, Noam and Aviva and his siblings Yoel and Hadas have been living this nightmare and campaigning for his freedom in a ceaseless effort to raise awareness and free Gilad. In attempting to use the French justice system based on Gilad's dual French and Israeli citizenship his father Noam said, "I do not know yet what this will accomplish but I can do nothing but try every avenue, hold on to every hope".
His captors continue to make outrageous and seemingly endless demands for his release. Negotiations broke down when Hamas demanded the release of 1400 prisoners many of them serving sentences for horrendous crimes in exchange for Gilad.
The Shalit family is keeping a vigil in a tent in Jerusalem just outside the Prime Minister's residence. One cannot walk past the banners, ribbons and messages of support that adorn the long walls on either side of the tent without being moved by the agony of Gilad's continued captivity, an agony that has gone way beyond the personal tragedy of the Shalit family and has seeped into the psyche of the nation that anxiously awaits his return. Gilad's mother Aviva has vowed not to return home until she can take Gilad home with her.
On a political and social level in Israel the issues are tremendously complex. Will paying an ever escalating price for Gilad's release tempt his terrorist captors to redouble their efforts to capture more Israeli soldiers knowing that doing so has the potential to bear such fruit again and again? Will abandoning negotiations signal a change in the fundamental social compact that Israel and its Defence Forces have with its citizen soldiers that no effort will be spared to see a captive soldier released and returned to his family? Regardless of where one stands on these issues one cannot help but be overwhelmed by the Shalit's deeply moving demonstration of love and affection for their son.
Over the weekend of Friday 24 June to Sunday 26 June, the Jewish community will mark the fifth anniversary of Gilad's kidnapping by observing 5 minutes of contemplative silence in our schools, in our synagogues and in our youth groups. On Sunday we will gather as a community and with our friends from the wider community at Caulfield Park to publicly demonstrate our support for Gilad and his basic human rights. We will be joined at the Park by Israeli adventure cyclist Roei (Jinji) Sadan. Roei is riding into Melbourne as part of a trip around the world which began four years ago and which has covered 63,000 kilometres so far. For most of his journey Roei has had a "Gilad Still Lives" flag on his bike and the freedom of movement he enjoys stands in stark contrast to the lack of any freedom accorded to Gilad by his captors.
Gilad's plight is not just an issue for Israel. It is a human rights issue that should concern us all!
Please join us in sending a message of compassion, empathy and support for Gilad and his family. Let this year be the last year that we are compelled to demonstrate for Gilad's release and let us hope that the Shalit family soon returns to their home with Gilad safely in their arms.
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