As part of their struggle for the freedom of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, members of the “Shalit's Army” group planned to protest outside prisons on Tuesday. On Monday afternoon, Prison Services officials decided to preempt the protestors by canceling family visits at two jails in an attempt to prevent confrontation.
The Prison Services temporary ban on visits will affect the Hadarim and Tel Mond prisons -- two out of three jails in which most Hamas prisoners are held. Visits will resume on Wednesday.
The pro-Shalit group was planning to prevent family visits by force, in protest of Israeli policy that allows Hamas terrorists serving time for serious crimes to see their families, while Hamas prisoner Shalit has had no visits since he was taken hostage more than three years ago. Members have prepared letters in Arabic explaining their protest and demanding that Shalit be allowed to see his family; the letters were to be distributed to those visiting the Arab terrorists.
Shalit supporters have held similar demonstrations in the past, and have succeeded in preventing relatives of terrorist prisoners from reaching Israeli jails in time for visiting hours. Security officials apparently feared that Tuesday's rally could lead to violence between demonstrators and terrorists' visiting families.
Organizers expressed disappointment with the Prison Services' decision. The cancellation of visits will prevent Shalit's supporters from sending a powerful message to prisoners' families, a message that could have led to increased pressure on Hamas to negotiate for Shalit's freedom, they said. Some supporters said the cancellation of the visits sent a message too.
However, many protestors remained optimistic, and said the Prison Services decision proved that their rallies were having an effect.
Fourth Birthday in Captivity
Tuesday's rally will join events worldwide, all scheduled to mark Shalit's twenty-third birthday. The birthday is the fourth that Shalit's family and friends have marked since the young soldier was kidnapped in 2006.
The occasion has already been marked by a prayer rally in Jerusalem. In the upcoming week, activists will hold rallies and more mass prayers in honor of the event, and people worldwide will be asked to sign petitions calling on Hamas to allow Red Cross representatives to see their Israeli hostage.
Lawmaker Plans 'Empty Seat' Campaign
Kadima MK Yoel Hasson has joined the Shalit camp in planning events, and recently began promoting the “Empty Seat initiative.” The plan would see coffeehouses, restaurants, and other places of entertainment leave one seat empty, bearing the sign “Reserved for Gilad Shalit.”
The chairs “will remind us that there is an Israeli soldier in captivity, that there is a family in Israel that is worried and hurting,” Hasson explained. “No Israeli citizen can be at peace until Gilad returns.”