JERUSALEM – The traditional candle-lighting ceremony kicking off Yom Ha’atzmuat – Israel Independence Day – was just getting underway on Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl on Monday night when the celebration was interrupted by the brother of captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. As Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin finished his speech, Yoel Shalit and his girlfriend, Yaara Vinkler, stood up and began shouting and waving signs that read “Gilad is still alive.” Police forcibly removed the two from the ceremony grounds as they continued shouting.
“I am shouting for Gilad,” Shalit told reporters. “He can’t shout, so I have to shout for him.”
Opposition Leader Tzipi Livni left the ceremony to speak with them and implore them to return to the ceremony, but the two refused.
“This is a ceremony marking mutual guarantee, but all that is left are words” said Vinkler. ” We are done sitting in these ceremonies and listening to politicians who get applause at our expense. We demand action and from now on we are pulling no punches in the struggle to release Gilad.”
Meanwhile, Gilad Shalit’s father, Noam Shalit, told Ynet News “We are not celebrating Independence Day. We are staying in the tent until Gilad is released, in order to prevent another memorial day.” He said, referring to the big white sidewalk tent erected on Jerusalem’s busy Azza Street that each day displays the number of days the young soldier has been held captive.
Shalit, who has been held captive in Gaza by Hamas for nearly five years, was also on the minds of Israeli leaders marking Israel Memorial Day for the Jewish state’s fallen soldiers and victims of terrorism, which is commemorated the day before Independence Day.
“Not a day goes by that we don’t care for the wellbeing of our captive soldiers, including Gilad Shalit, who is being kept by a ruthless enemy,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Israelis gathered at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill. “We are constantly working to free them, including via secret channels.”
Recalling his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Yoni Netanyahu. who was killed in Operation Entebbe 35 years ago, Netanyahu said, “As a member of a bereaved family, I am well acquainted with the pain, the sense of loss and helplessness. These are joined by the grief over missed opportunities. We shall never know what would have happened had our loved ones stayed alive, had they set up families and realized their dreams.”
According to reports by both Haaretz and Al Jazeera, Hamas has agreed in principle to a new proposal, formulated by Egypt, aimed at securing Shalit’s release. But Egyptian sources told Haaretz Sunday that although Egypt has renewed efforts to promote a deal for Shalit’s release, no actual negotiations have begun; and Hamas denied that a plan was in the works.