The Shalit campaign
The Shalit campaign Israel News Photo: (Flash 90)

The families of terror victims and the Almagor Terror Victims Association noted with satisfaction on Sunday that their campaign against the proposed prisoner exchange deal for the release of kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit has “made a difference,” now that Ehud Olmert’s government is headed out of office.

They said that the deal, which would have involved the release of hundreds of terrorists, including some especially heinous murderers, has apparently been scuttled for the time being.

The terror victims and Almagor faced a well-funded and professional campaign by the Shalit family and other proponents of the deal. The Campaign for the Release of Gilad Shalit set up a protest tent in front of the Prime Minister’s Residence with the aim of pressuring Ehud Olmert into signing a deal according to Hamas’s terms.

At first, the Shalit campaign received wall-to-wall support from the media. Entire front pages of the nation’s top dailies were taken up by gimmicks – like a fake letter written in Shalit’s handwriting, imploring the government to release him. Stickers, balloons, T-shirts, posters called for Shalit’s release. A musical project sponsored by a large website featured artists singing for Shalit, and Gilad’s portrait was painted on a huge storage tank at the Pi Gelilot facility overlooking Highway 2.

Deciding to go to Jerusalem

“The pressure in the protest tent intensified as time went by. Ministers and MKs visited the tent and joined the pressure on the government to release terrorists,” said Ron Kehrman, whose daughter Tal was murdered in a terror attack on Bus #37 in Haifa. “Our fear that hundreds of murderers would be released and create the next terror wave prompted us to go to Jerusalem and voice ourselves there. In addition, we feared that our silence would be interpreted to mean that terror victims who paid a heavy price were in favor of the deal, and that we were surrendering to the blackmail of the terror organizations in Gaza. Finally, we were concerned that intense public pressure on the prime minister would cause him to sign a rash deal at the last minute”.

Kehrman added: “Before we set up our own protest tent, it seemed that most Israelis were resigned to the exchange of 1,450 terrorists for the release of Gilad Shalit. We went against this prevailing viewpoint and, indeed, after a few days the media presented new voices that demanded the rethinking of this solution. The media also called for finding other ways to release our soldier without surrendering to the terror organization's extortionate demands.”

A slow start

The protest tent was established in front of the Prime Minister’s home, where Kehrman, together with Yossi Mendelevitch, Yossi Tzur and other bereaved parents appealed to the public to “Release Shalit, But Not At All Costs."

“During the first few days, media coverage was low and the ‘Not At All Costs’ tent was mentioned only incidentally in the articles covering Shalit’s protest tent,” Kehrman recounted.

“Finally the critical week arrived, in which an Israeli decision had to be made on whether to capitulate to the terror organization's blackmail. At the beginning of that week, we re-established the protest tent,” [it had been taken down temporarily -- ed.].

“This time the response was greater. Bereaved parents, volunteers and supporters arrived from all corners of the country and gave interviews to the press. Some of the journalists themselves, including Yaron Dekel, Raviv Drucker, Harel Segal, Ben Dror Yemini, Avri Gilad and Beni Teitelboim, started publicly asking themselves, ‘What is actually going on here?’

“Other journalists started ‘coming out of the closet’ to express the rational opinion which we had been representing alone up until now. As time passed, the pressure on both sides intensified; then the Israeli negotiators returned from Cairo.

The dramatic day

“Finally the dramatic day arrived in which the prime minister stated that he and his ministers had reached a decision. After a one-day delay, it became publicized that the negotiations had failed and were brought to a halt. For the first time, after years of pressure on our side, the prime minister finally dared to stand up and say that Israel also has red lines which cannot, should not be crossed. Our message has finally been heard.

"For the first time, there were discussions over the possibility of worsening the conditions of Hamas prisoners who are sitting in Israeli jails as means of pressure to release Gilad Shalit. Even Minister of Justice Friedman approved this step. Our appeals to use pressure tactics in order to alter the power balance has finally permeated the Israeli consensus. Surveys now show that the majority of the nation supports this move."

Kehrman and the other activists announced that they are taking down the protest tent, but said they are not taking down their guard: “There are reports about the possibility of renewing the negotiations and the possibility of Ofer Dekel meeting with Hamas prisoners, in order to convince them to pressure their leadership into accepting the deal which includes Israel’s earlier terms.”

“We are alert and ready to renew our public struggle so that those who were sentenced to life imprisonment will serve their time in jail, and the prime minister and security forces will find another way to obtain the release of Gilad Shalit.“

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