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I became actively involved with Israel the week after Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas in 2006. I had been interested in, and quietly supportive of, Israel for a couple of years before that. But it was witnessing the ignorance and hostility that Israel faced in Britain after Gilad’s kidnap, and then again when the Hezbollah war began weeks later, that convinced me to speak-up and get involved.

Since then, Gilad’s plight has been central in my thoughts and activity with regards to Israel. With Gilad hopefully on the brink of freedom I thought I’d collect here some key memories of the campaign to keep his case alive.

* The ‘Tekes’ for Gilad Shalit organised by The Federation of Zionist Youth (FZY) in 2009. It was a moving and galvanising effort.

* The birthday cake for Gilad and vigil at the Red Cross written about here by my friend Jonathan Sacerdoti.

* Gilad’s smile in video released by Hamas (in exchange for 20 Palestinian prisoners) in the autumn of that year.

* In July 2010, every Zionist organisation in Britain ignored the fourth anniversary of Gilad’s captivity – except one. The FZY held a week-long vigil for Gilad opposite Downing Street. During the three days I spent on the vigil I was encouraged by how many passers-by were supportive. I handed out hundreds of leaflets, including one to Deputy PM Nick Clegg.

* Meanwhile, tens of thousands were demonstrating in support of Gilad in Israel, and Jonathan wrote about a concert for Gilad he attended near the Gaza border.

* A few weeks later I was in Jerusalem. A friend took me to the Shalit family protest tent and introduced me to Gilad’s father Noam. I showed Noam photographs of the vigil, and shared stories with him of our experiences on it. We had a chuckle about Nick Clegg. I then spoke with members of a nearby counter-vigil, run by people bereaved by terror attacks who oppose the idea of a prisoner swap. Movingly, the cafe that sits opposite the tent and counter-vigil is Cafe Momento, which has twice been blown-up by suicide bombers.

* On my way home from Israel that summer, I was lightly questioned at Ben Gurion Airport. When the security guy finished his questions he pointed at my Shalit campaign t-shirt and said: ‘By the way, my friend – just awesome.’

* Gilad’s brother Yoel speaking at the Red Cross in October 2010 and his controversial disruption of Israel’s Independence Day ceremony in May 2011.

* The vigil and leafleting outside the Red Cross in London in February 2011.

* The Faces For Gilad campaign organised by the Board of Deputies’ Jamie Slavin. (Jamie had been key in organising the 2010 FZY vigil.)

* The London taxi for Gilad

* Thousands of Hasidim dancing and praying for Gilad.

* In June 2011 I met and spoke alongside Gilad’s grandfather Zvi and cousin Hemda at an FZY event in London. It was very moving to hear their stories and to chat with them afterwards. It really brought home what the family was going through. Hemda is great fun, and talked to me about the differences between Christianity and Judaism, before telling me: ‘Oy Va Goy – you’re an honorary Jew.’ Just like Gilad’s parents, Hemda and Zvi are lovely, admirable people.

In truth, it was the sober realities of international political relations that led Gilad to the brink of freedom this week, not leafleting on the streets of London. However, the Shalit family told me clearly that news of every effort in the Gilad campaign brought them comfort and encouragement in dark times. For that reason alone it was all worthwhile, so kol hakovod to all who took part.

Furthermore, these initiatives served as a powerful way of introducing the general public to wider truths about Israel and the Middle East. Several members of the public I spoke with while leafleting about Gilad went through palpable paradigm shifts in their perception of Israel as a result of learning about his case. Human stories always connect.

My thoughts are with all of Gilad’s family as they await his return. My thoughts are also with the people of Israel, whatever their views and feelings on the prisoner exchange. It’s an emotional time.

Most of all, of course, my thoughts are with Gilad.

Bring him home.

18 Responses to “Gilad Shalit campaign memories… and why it was all worthwhile”

  1. Stan says:

    Although I support this exchange, I think the campaign you are so fond of was very misguided and did more harm than good. The movement has always been mainly focused on forcing Israel to make more concessions in negotiations, rather than publicizing to the world the viciousness of Hamas (I completely disagree that it raised any broader awareness). It played right into Hamas’ hands, and gave them a political victory. You (Chas) might look back fondly on the movement, but I think a lot of it was quite disgusting.

    Stan

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      I see your overall point and appreciate your frankness. And as you say, you support the exchange, so we agree there.

      However, you say you ‘completely disagree it raised broader awareness’ of Hamas/Middle East. As I said, myself and others repeatedly witnessed first hand how it raised just that awareness.

  2. YB says:

    Reading these reminiscences definitely moved me, Chas. Although I have reservations about the Shalit protests, it is too simple to pick holes in the sort of efforts other people make. It is not quite so straightforward to ask ourselves what efforts we ourselves are making. On a more specific note, I wonder whether there might still be some twists in the Shalit tale.

  3. Tricia Schwitzer says:

    Wish we had more like you. You do such important work. British Jews could take a leaf out of your book. As they say round here, ‘Kol hacavod’ and keep up the good work. You’re a star.

    • Chas Newkey-Burden says:

      Thank you Tricia – you’re the star! ;)

      And there are plenty of British Jews who do far, far more than me.

  4. David Graniewitz says:

    Well done on all your efforts, Chas. I can tell you that when the first pictures of Gilad as a free man are shown on TV even a hardened callous cynic like me will have trouble keeping a dry eye.

  5. Norman says:

    Chas I am one of those Israelis who do not support gaining Gilad Shalit’s freedom in exchange for the release of 1000 unrepentant terrorists who immediately following their release we are assured by Hamas will be put to use doing what they know best G-d help us all! Of course we all want Gilad back home safe and sound with his family but can that be squared with the hurt caused to the families of those who died as a consequence of these monster’s actions or the demotivating effect it will have on the brave Israeli security personnel who put their lives on the line to capture them. May I suggest you read the story of Reb Meir of Rothenburg.

  6. Riva says:

    Hey Chas,
    Completely agree with you, I too look back fondly on campaigns I was instrumental in organising in Liverpool, and I am so happy all those campaigns in Israel and all around the world have worked and Gilad is coming home.
    After all, a soul in Israel is saved and that is worth a whole world. I just hope that we will never have to organise these campaigns and vigils ever again.
    Chag Succot Sameach to you. and keep up with the great work you do for Israel and the Jewish people. thank you.

  7. [...] Read More: Gilad Shalit campaign memories… and why it was all worthwhile … [...]

  8. Ian says:

    I was in Israel at the time that Gilad was kidnapped in 2006 – many of us have vivid memories of campaigning for His release over the last 5 years – thanks to Chas for all the work that He has done for the campaign .
    Our Joy for Gilad’s release cannot be complete untill the other Israelis Missing In Action have been brought home ; and We must remember all the victims of terrorism & their families .

  9. From Israel says:

    The jubilation over Gilad’s return has to be tempered given the price we are paying and will continue to pay. It is not just a matter of justice and respect for the victims. We are talking of vocational terrorists, who are not going to go back to a quiet life of UNWRA relief and backgammon. (Think Ramallah lynch, Subarro bombing, Tel Aviv Dolphinarium bombing, the Pesach Park Hotel bombing…etc)

    Also please remember that the cause for Gilad was hijacked by the Israeli ultra-left who cynically manipulated his cause for their own ends to weaken the State of Israel.

    For me this deal is the ultimate in mixed emotions.

  10. Chas Newkey-Burden says:

    Thanks, I had a look. He makes some great points in that article, but is perhaps misleading and overly negative in parts?

    For instance, he writes: ‘…it is time to recognize that every Israeli institution has failed to deal with terrorism.’

    That statements ignores the dramatic reduction (almost eradiction) in suicide bombings as a result of the security fence, and the significant reduction in rocket attacks from Gaza as a result of Cast Lead.

    Thanks for the recommendation, though. I’ll keep an eye on that blog.

  11. Ros says:

    I hope that each and every one of these terrorists has been fed an impermeable dye that can be closely monitored by the Israeli defence authorities. One step – JUST ONE STEP – out of line and they are hunted down and eliminated.

    Sky News is running a series of ‘photographs of the prisoners’ as if each and every one, coming, as they do, from ‘lovely families’ were imprisoned for nothing more than stealing a loaf of bread. Every time that a photo of one of these scumbags is shown on tv or in the newspaper, it should have emblazoned across it just how many innocents were murdered by him or her and the way in which he/she did it.

    I hope that Gilad will be able to provide some information about his captives and his captivity – if he isn’t too mentally disabled. I wish him well, I really do but I wonder about the price.

  12. Avril says:

    Chas, it’s 8.15am,I’m watching Sky news and I can’t stop crying, I think it’s a mixture of elation that Gilad is coming home, but also the flag waving and cheering of the Palestinians for those who only know hatred for Jews and Israel. I feel so worried for Israel, I only hope and pray that maybe, just maybe, the world can see what Israel is all about and finally realise the constant struggle it has to endure on a daily basis – now, where are those tissues! x

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