The Israeli government is dismissing an Egyptian report that kidnapped Israeli Cpl. Gilad Shalit is in reasonable health, according to Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.
“Unless we will be there or someone we can rely on will give us a symbol of life, I don’t think we can take rumors as proof of what’s going on,” Shalom said following a New York rally last Thursday marking the third anniversary of Shalit’s abduction.
Three terrorist groups including Hamas, which is now believed to be holding him in the Gaza Strip, kidnapped Shalit in a cross-border raid. Hamas has been asking for the release of 1,400 prisoners in Israeli jails in return for Shalit’s release.
Media reports in recent days have spoken of a plan to move Shalit to Egypt as the first step towards his release. According to these reports, Shalit’s parents would be permitted to visit their son, whose return to Israel would be predicated upon a prisoner swap that still must be hammered out.
At Thursday’s rally in Times Square, Shalom spoke with a bullhorn as he said: “Gilad Shalit was 19 years old [when he was kidnapped], and unfortunately Hamas has not allowed anyone to visit him, including the International Red Cross.”
“We are asking today for the immediate release of Gilad Shalit, of a signal of life from Gilad Shalit and to allow the International Red Cross to go there immediately and visit him and find out what the situation is,” he said. “We’d like him back home in the near future. We are doing everything we can to bring him back home.”
Shalom pointed out that among the 1,400 prisoners Hamas is demanding in return for Shalit’s release are “hundreds and hundreds of murderers — people who killed Israeli citizens. These people had been sentenced to prison for years and they should stay there to make sure they commit no terrorist activities in the future. We are asking the United States to join us in asking for the humanitarian release of Gilad Shalit immediately.”
Also at the rally, organized by the Israeli Consulate here and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, was City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). He stressed that the activities on behalf of Shalit that were taking place worldwide were “a united humanitarian effort.”
Standing opposite a poster that read, “Bring Gilad Shalit Home Now,” Michael Miller, executive vice president and CEO of the JCRC, called upon Shalit’s captors to “live up to international law and provide a symbol of life or allow regular visits by the Red Cross.”
He pointed out that under the administration of former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, “Israel offered hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in exchange [for Shalit] and was constantly rebuffed.”
Following the rally, organizers fanned out throughout Times Square asking people to sign postcards of support for Shalit that will be sent to his parents, Noam and Aviva.
Among those collecting signatures was Orna Herbstman of Flatbush and her daughter, Nofar Abergel, 12, who found that many of those they approached were tourists who were unaware of Shalit’s kidnapping.
Nadine Boehlke, 21, of Hanover, Germany, said she had not heard of Shalit. “I have to admit, I don’t watch the news so much,” she said as she signed the card.
Herbstman and her daughter also found many Israelis passing through Times Square who enthusiastically signed the card. One couple from Ramallah said they had just arrived and that a day earlier they had seen television reports of Israelis demonstrating at the Gaza border in Shalit’s behalf.
Ruth Levy of Bat Yam, just south of Tel Aviv, said she was pleasantly surprised to find the signature campaign in full swing here. “We didn’t expect it here,” she said. “In Israel we see his name everyday on TV because they keep count of how many days he is not with us.”
Eva Farrell, 19, of Dublin, Ireland, and her traveling companion, Anna Hadfield, 19, also of Dublin, said neither of them had heard of Shalit but they readily signed. “I hope he’s still alive,” said Hadfield.
“I hope this makes a difference,” Farrell added.
Roy Cianfrone of Elmont, L.I., one of two construction workers who were taking a break on lounge chairs on the Broadway mall in Times Square, said he knew of the Shalit case and quickly signed the card.
“I hope they get him back, but they shouldn’t give back too many” for his release, he said of the proposed prisoner swap.
His friend, Alvin Smith of Brooklyn, said he could not believe that Israel was being asked to release 1,400 prisoners in return for one man.
“Forget about it,” he scoffed. “It should be a one-to-one exchange, or at most 10-to-1. But 1,400 to one is crazy.”