Tens of thousands marched down Fifth Avenue in New York on Sunday before nearly one million spectators in the annual tribute to Israel, with a special salute to kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.
In less than four weeks, three years will have passed since Gaza terrorists kidnapped the young soldier in a murderous cross-border raid at the Kerem Shalom crossing, where two of his comrades were killed and a fourth was severely wounded.
Shalit's parents, Noam and Aviva paraded with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the same time Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that former senior Mossad intelligence officer Haggai Hadas will take over the job of handling delicate negotiations for his release.
Hamas, in violation of the Geneva Convention, has not allowed officials from the International Committee of the Red Cross or anyone else to visit Shalit, and no one is sure of his condition, physical or psychological. He is assumed to be alive, but no definite signs of life have been offered. The terrorists have sent an audio, but the date of the recording is not known.
"It was very touching for Aviva and me to walk the streets of Manhattan and see so many people cheering for our son and demanding his release," said Noam, father of the solider. "It lets us know that the scope of our ordeal is felt by Jews well beyond Israel. While it does not make the pain any less, it shows us how many others feel some of that pain."
Hadas, 56, spoke with Noam shortly before the government announced that he will be replacing Ofer Dekel, who faced criticism for not paying enough attention to the negotiations with Egyptian mediators on Shalit’s release and for arranging a deal that fell through.
Israel’s mass media raised false expectations for Shalit's release by promoting a deal Dekel was arranging for freeing hundreds of terrorists serving life prison terms for involvement in the murder of more than 100 Israelis. The Cabinet in the Olmert government rejected the proposal after security officials said it would endanger the country and encourage more kidnappings.
Hadas said that no one should expect a magical and quick solution to Shalit’s plight. His work is complicated by the previous proposal, which Hamas is likely to insist be a starting point despite the Cabinet’s rejection.
Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, following Shalit’s kidnapping, vowed he would not negotiate for returning the soldier. He also said he would not sit down again with Palestinian Authority PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who then was in control of Gaza, until the soldier was safely back in Israel.