There is an article in today’s Australian entitled ‘Shalit ‘to Egypt’ in plan to lift Gaza siege‘ which discusses negotiations about abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. It sources a report from London based al-Awsat newspaper, saying a deal will be made between the Israelis and Hamas, brokered by Egypt, which will see him transferred to Egypt and held there on “deposit” until Israel releases Palestinian prisoners. While in Egypt’s custody, Gilad’s parents would be allowed to visit him. This would be the first step in a broader plan that would include the release of a certain amount of Palestinian prisoners and the easing of the blockade on Gaza. It would also be the starting point on the road to achieve an overall peace agreement between Israel and the Arab world.
Reports of this deal were filtering through the news media late last week but they were immediately denied by Hamas. Its leader Ismail Haniyeh declared, “what has been reported in the media does not reflect reality’ (see more). Following this, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak stated that “the reports on the release of Shalit are incorrect and even damaging” (see more) and even today, as this news hits our local papers, many who should be ‘in the know’ are claiming that there is no such deal in place.
Osama Mazini, who is in charge of the “Shalit portfolio” on behalf of Hamas, has declared that all negotiations were stopped during former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s administration. He stated that all reports that are currently in the media are “test balloons” (see more).
On Thursday, Gilad passed the sad milestone of three years in captivity. Our community too, felt the ripples of sadness as we remembered back to 25 June 2006, and all that has happened since then. One of the first things our community did was launch the “Blue Ribbon Campaign” to raise awareness for Gilad Shalit’s plight, as well as the plight of Ehud Goldwasser z”l and Eldad Regev z”l. At the time, my father and I tied a blue ribbon around a tree at the front of our house to serve as a constant reminder to us and all that passed by the house that while we continued to go about our normal lives, Gilad Shalit was being held against his will in the dark dungeons of Gaza by Hamas. When the bodies of Ehud and Eldad were returned last year, I reflected on how we had come two steps closer to taking down the ribbon, though not in the way we had imagined when the boys were taken captive. Today, after reading the reports about Gilad’s imminent release, I passed by the tree with its forlorn ribbon now weathered and grey, and I hoped again that the day would come very soon when we could take the ribbon down, and more importantly, that Gilad could go home.
I will continue to follow the newspapers and hold out hope that a deal with come through, and quickly. Keep an eye out for the issue in our local media – although I wouldn’t rely on The Age whose Middle East correspondent has been busy filing fluff pieces about “fur fury” and Jewish leaders and of course, getting in trouble over breaking media embargoes. This apparently leaves little time to write anything of any substance in relation to this matter which is of major importance to Israel in the context of the ongoing conflict in the region.
Please join the ZCV, together with Hagshama, Australian Friends of Hebrew University (Vic Division) and JNF Victoria, tonight for a moving and informative documentary about Gilad Shalit, followed by a panel discussion. For more information, click here.
Israel Advocacy Analyst
Zionist Council of Victoria