After the passing of the thousandth day of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit’s capture, Gilad’s parents packed up their protest tent opposite the Prime Minister’s residence, preparing to go home. Although they are saddened, they have not given up the fight to bring their son back to Israel.
Negotiations to secure Shalit's freedom center on how costly a price must Israel pay for his release. One Israeli official stated that two-thirds of released prisoners return to terror. On Sunday, Hamas deputy politburo head Moussa Abu Marzouk left the door open for negotiations, saying in an interview with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) that as long as Israel holds Palestinian Authority (PA) prisoners and Hamas holds Shalit, there is no other option but to reach an agreement.
Gilad’s parents, who were stationed in their protest tent for nearly two weeks, are nonetheless angry with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, charging he has not been doing enough to bring their son home. "In the past 10 days we've been here, they've done what they haven't done for three years, and then they tell us we're to blame," Aviva Shalit told Haaretz.
Noam Shalit took the stage to a round of applause on Saturday, paraphrasing a statement of former Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz: "A state that forgets about its citizens will be forgotten by its soldiers.” Directly referring to Olmert, whose term will be soon ending, Shalit continued, “It's been a thousand days since government officials and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent Gilad on a mission, and they haven't found a way to free him. You have two more weeks to bring him back before it’s too late. Don't give us explanations about why that's impossible.”
The deal to free the kidnapped soldier reportedly fell through because Israel refused to release five top terrorists, according to the London-based Arab newspaper Al-Hayat. In addition, Hamas opposed Israel’s demand to expel 90 of the released prisoners from Judea, Samaria, and Gaza.
Room for Optimism
Over the last 30 years, Israel has released about 7,000 Arab prisoners to secure the freedom of 19 Israelis and retrieve the bodies of eight others. A number of diplomatic efforts have been made to secure the release of Israeli IDF personnel following their capture by enemy forces.
The most recent case where Israel obtained live prisoners in return for a prisoner swap came in October 2000 on Shebaa Farms, when Hizbullah captured three IDF soldiers who were killed either during the operation or in its immediate aftermath. Hizbullah demanded the release of 14 Lebanese prisoners in exchange for their bodies, together with PA Arab prisoners. A prisoner swap was carried out on 29 January 2004 in exchange for Israeli businessman Elchanan Tenenbaum and the remains of the three IDF soldiers. Israel released 30 Lebanese and 400 PA prisoners, handed over the remains of 59 Lebanese militants and civilians, and provided maps showing Israeli mines in South Lebanon.
Other Israeli POWs (prisoners of war) besides Gilad Shalit also remain at large:
• Staff Sgt. Zecharya Baumel, Staff Sgt. Zvi Feldman and Staff Sgt. Yehuda Katz, all missing since 11 June 1982, in a battle at Sultan Yakoub, in Lebanon. While the IDF officially calls the three MIAs (missing in action) as having died in battle, the families protest the decision.
• IAF Major Ron Arad, who was captured on 16 October 1986, after his aircraft was shot down near Sidon, Lebanon. Arad was initially held by the Amal Shi'ite terrorist organization; however he was handed over first to Hizbullah and then "sold" to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards. His fate is still unknown.
• Guy Hever, last seen at his army base on the southern Golan Heights on August 17, 1997.
• Majdy Halabi, a Druze soldier last seen at a hitchhiking stop in Dalyat El Karmel on May 24, 2005.