Thousands rally for Israeli soldier

A group of GW students joined more than 1,000 supporters to demand the release of Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier who has been held captive by Hamas since his capture in 2006, Thursday evening on the National Mall.

The University of Maryland chapter of the Zionist Organization of America organized the 1,600 for 1,600 Humanitarian Rally for Gilad Shalit, to match the number of days Shalit has been held by the Palestinian political organization Hamas. Many governments, including the U.S., consider Hamas a terrorist organization.

Three dozen GW students met at Hillel with Israeli flags large and small to head down to the rally as a group.

“The rally is more of a humanitarian effort, getting the Red Cross to make sure that he’s okay,” sophomore Rebecca Federman, a member of GW’s Jewish Student Association, said. Federman served as a liaison between GW and the University of Maryland students organizing the rally.

Daniel Berdugo, president of the University of Maryland chapter of the ZOA, said the rally for Shalit was meant “to show that the U.S. and the world has not, nor will it, forget Hamas’ inhumanities against Gilad Shalit.”

Berdugo said Hamas has refused to make contact with the Red Cross, violating international law.

“The time has come to say enough is enough,” Berdugo said, eliciting cheers from the crowd.

The crowd responded with chants of “Free Gilad now!” and students raised signs with messages including “What if he were your brother?” and “Gilad, you are not alone.”

In addition to speeches from activists, the rally included readings of letters from Shalit’s family. In one letter, Shalit’s brother, Yoel, said his family held a 12-day march across Israel, with more than 100,000 protestors calling for his brother’s freedom.

Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said Hamas is no different than militant Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, and called both groups “surrogates for Iran.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has repeatedly called for Israel’s destruction.

“Let’s make it very, very clear to Hamas that Israel is here to stay as a Jewish state,” Engel said.

Students joined in celebration afterward, dancing to Israeli popular music and forming a circle, chanting “Am Yisrael Chai,” which translates to “the people of Israel live.”

“It was really impressive that this rally was put together by students and that it reached so many outlets and so many people turned out,” junior Rebecca Kahn-Witman said.

Rachel Goldrich, co-president of the GW Student Alliance for Israel, commented on the importance of students taking action.

“I think that students hold a lot of power, and politicians are really looking at and care about what the young people are saying,” Goldrich said.

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