September 23, 2009
HAVIV RETTIG GUR
A woman holds a banner depicting abducted Israeli soldier
Sgt. Gilad Schalit during a protest on the Israel Gaza border
last week Photo: AP
Jewish Agency officials met on Tuesday with top Red Cross representatives in Washington to give them some 1,000 postcards from US Jewish communities, including hundreds from children, addressed to kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Schalit.
Agency officials, together with Jewish community officials, sat down with Gail McGovern, CEO of the American Red Cross, and Mary Werntz, head of the North American delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross.
"We and the Red Cross are on the same side," said Jewish Agency North America spokesman Jacob Dallal. "They have made efforts to try to see Gilad through their interlocutors. They have a press release on the issue on their Web site."
But, Dallal added, "it's still important that the Red Cross know that there are Americans who are adamant on this subject and that they continue to make extra efforts. The effort and the awareness of this issue are important in and of themselves."
The Jewish communal delegation included Agency board members Dede Feinberg and Noam Goldstein, Washington, DC, federation president Suzie Gelman and chief executive Misha Galperin, and at least two members of an Arizona community who "could not just sit and pray and do nothing."
"Although we think the International Red Cross has good intentions, I think a little pressure can't hurt. We don't believe the Red Cross has done as much as they could," explained Rabbi John Linder of Temple Solel in Paradise Valley, Arizona.
Together with congregant Jay Levinson, Linder wants to let the Red Cross "know that there are Jews and non-Jews around the world who understand that saving a life is like saving the world," he said from outside the Red Cross building in Washington shortly before the meeting.
Red Cross officials also received at the meeting thousands of signatures from an Agency petition demanding that the international humanitarian organization work to guarantee all the rights afforded to Schalit under the Geneva Conventions.
"The petition calls upon the Red Cross to continue exerting pressure on the Hamas government in Gaza to allow the organization's representatives to visit the captured soldier," the Jewish Agency said in a statement.
Tuesday's meeting concluded several months of events throughout the United States and other Diaspora communities marking Schalit's 23rd birthday, which fell on August 28, under the banner, "Gilad - Everybody's Child."
There were public statements by cities and state legislatures in the United States, events at synagogues and Jewish schools and the postcard-writing campaign.
Over the High Holy Days season, a joint Jewish Agency-World Zionist Organization program will oversee the collection of similar postcards in Argentinean Jewish communities that will also call for international visitation for Schalit. These, too, will be handed over to Red Cross representatives.