The Shalit family has walked for 12 days, in route to Gilad. 210 kilometers, 250,000 people. “As if returning from a battle” is how they were described yesterday as they entered Jerusalem. A small family from Mitzpe Hila; a mother and father whose son is lost, wearing sneakers and small backpacks on their backs. The Shalit family has triumphed over apathy. They overcame July’s humidity and heat, as well as the beginning of the summer break.
It was under these circumstances that the Shalit family stopped as they entered Jerusalem to look behind them and saw Am Yisrael.
The young and the elderly, religious and non-religious, in groups and alone. The handicapped in wheelchairs and those with crutches. Each one came to save their own personal Gilad, imprisoned for the past four years.
Not everyone agrees with the releasing of prisoners, but everyone wants Gilad home!!!! And no, not everyone supports the releasing of prisoners with blood on their hands. Many are divided. Though they may not agree on the method, they all demand the same end result.
“Gilad!” is being shouted from the roads and the windows of homes past during the walk, from the junctions on the way. “Gilad is still alive!” was chanted on the first day of the journey and was chanted daily, for 12 days. This is what was chanted when yesterday Yuval Arad, daughter of fighter pilot Ron Arad, joined the Shalit family in their campaign at the entrance of Jerusalem. She was just a baby when her father was captured, yet to return. No one walked across the country for Yuval’s father. But Yuval Arad joined the walk for Gilad, “Gilad is still alive!”
“I will return home with Gilad” is what Aviva Shalit said at the entrance of Jerusalem and took Noam’s and Yoel’s (her eldest son) hands . . . she did not cry. “I will return with Gilad” she said. “I will return with my son. I am not accustomed to public speaking” Aviva continued. “I am also not accustomed to marching, or being in the public’s eye. For four years I have been doing things that are unfamiliar to me and I am not adapting. But we are doing what we must. Our country is small, so it isn’t difficult to hike across it. Even if it were larger, I would walk. I believe that Gilad too would walk, if he felt it would bring another soldier home.”
Noam and Aviva Shalit have been on their journey towards Gilad for four years. He is captured, and so are they. He is imprisoned and so are they. The hordes of people who have joined the Shalit family will stand by them through thick and thin. The people are optimistic. The Shalilts are not. After turning every stone possible, they are realistic. “Gilad” said Aviva Shalit, is not a poster. He is not a billboard. He is my son, he is a living child.”
What is the value of one soldier’s life while alive? What is the value of a child’s life to his parents? To the state? Immeasurable.
How difficult it is to be a mother. How easy is it for us to be us.
For four years, Gilad Shalit has been denied any human rights. A person sentenced to death has rights. He is presented before a judge; allowed to see a priest; is permitted a phone call and one last request. Not Gilad.
250,000 walkers participated in the largest protest campaign to ever take place in this country. Many young people, people with baby carriages, teenagers and children participated in this type of campaign for very first time. This walk and the various assemblies on behalf of Gilad Shalit have brought together the silent majority. This was the first campaign of this magnitude, whose organizers had the wisdom to avoid any political speeches.
How brutally difficult it is to be a mother. How hard it must be, to stand as an impoverished person at the doorway, even at the entry to your own Prime Minister’s home. How difficult it must be to hear that “every parent would react the same” but knowing that you are the parent this time, you who cannot determine nor decide the fate of your child. How difficult it must be to know that your child is within arm’s reach, in walking distance, yet unreachable, cut off from the world for four years. You can walk from Mitzpe Hila to Jerusalem, but you cannot reach your own child.
This past Thursday, at 9:45 in the evening the Shalit family went to their new housing, a tent across from the Prime Minister’s residence. Until Gilad returns. For now, over 1474 days, Gilad has been in Gaza and they have been without Gilad. The walking campaign has ended. The campaign for life is just beginning.