Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Gilad Shalit - Moment of Silence

On June 25, 2006 I was in Israel on the 10-day Birthright Israel program. Little did I know when I woke up that morning that it would be a day that I (and tens of thousands of other Israelis) would never forget. Our group intended to spend the the day relaxing in Eilat, enjoying the sun and snorkeling in the warm water. By breakfast time, we had received the news. I can still recall the sullen and heavy faces of our tour guide and fellow Israeli soldiers, who seemed to fully grasp the gravity of what had  just happened and what was yet to come.

Gilad Shilat, a young Corporal in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) Armor Corps, was on duty near the Kerem Shalom crossing when he was brutally abducted by Hamas terrorists in a violent cross-border raid near the Gaza border in Israel that left several dead. Shockingly, five long and painful years have passed since this time, and this innocent young soldier still remains in captivity in the Gaza Strip. It is one of Israel's most forlorn topics. The negotiations over his release have been bargained over for the last five years. During that time, the only contact between Gilad and the outside world has been three letters, one audio tape and one DVD released to Israel in exchange for freeing 20 Palestinian prisoners.

In exchange for his release, Hamas is demanding the release of all female and underage Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and another 1,000 prisoners (many of whom have been convicted by Israeli courts on terrorism charges). As you can see, the negotiations go nowhere, neither side wanting to give in to the other's demands.

In response to the upset and frustration, Israelis have made a point not to forget this young soldier. Thus, every year on March 15, at 11 a.m. tens of thousands of Israelis stop whatever they are doing - whether it be driving, studying, or exercising - and stand in complete silence for five entire minutes (each year of his kidnapping = one minute of silence). Today, being March 15,  2011 was no exception. You can imagine the scene. Highways come to a close, leaving miles of stopped cars with off-turned engines; music is shut off; playgrounds become quiet; and thousands stand in the streets amidst once busy intersections bowing their heads, praying and remembering this unlucky soldier. It is hard not to shed a tear. Even the President Shimon Peres cut off his speech in the Negev to honor the 5 minutes of silence; and at the Knesset, a loud horn sounded in order to bring work to a halt. The nation stood still.



The purposes of this standstill is threefold: first, it serves to honor and pray for Gilad's safe return; second, it serves to remind and pressure the Israeli government that their job is not yet done and that they must fight harder to negotiate his safe return; and third, it serves as a message to the Hamas rebels that Israelis stand united and undeterred. Today, our ulpan had the chance to participate in this demonstration and it was one of the most touching scenes I have witnessed. Why we don't do such a thing in memoriam of 9-11, I have no idea. It's a very prideful and nationalistic way to stand up not only for your country but also for what you know is right.
Having had the chance to meet Ingrid Betancourt earlier this year (pictured left),  a previously captured prisoner by the FARC in Colombia, I have grown especially sensitive when it comes to kidnapping and prisoner of war cases. I hope I can do my small part in the world by educating those of you out there who have kindly taken the time to read this post. I appreciate your awareness of this horrific topic and hope to one day be celebrating Gilad's release during my time here in Israel (along with all of the others out there in the world who are suffering the same fate).

1 comment:

  1. How sad Rayzee! I didn't know about this and I agree that we should do a moment of silence on 9/11!


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