NEW YORK (JTA) — A flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit set sail in New York on the eve of the fourth anniversary of his capture.
Meanwhile, the Colosseum and at least two other landmarks in Italy will go dark to draw attention to Shalit’s plight.
The “True Freedom Flotilla” invoked the name of the epithet of the fleet that sailed for the Gaza Strip on May 30 to “point out the exact hypocrisy of the terminology that they used,” said Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice chair of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which organized Thursday’s event. “This is what the real flotilla is about.”
The flotilla aimed to raise awareness about Shalit’s four years of imprisonment by Hamas and the inability of the International Red Cross to visit him. Shalit was abducted in a cross-border raid on June 25, 2006.
Comprised of two ships and a few motorboats, the flotilla sailed from Pier 40 on New York’s West Side to the United Nations on the East Side, where a small crowd of demonstrators displayed their support.
“All we’re asking for is for him to be treated like a human being,” said Israel’s consul general in New York, Asaf Shariv.
Shariv and Hoenlein were among the speakers at a news conference prior to the fleet’s departure. Among the other speakers were Israeli U.N. Ambassador Gabriela Shalev; the French deputy consul general, Patrick Lachaussee; and the executive director of the New York Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Joseph Potasnik.
The mission, at the very least, hoped to illustrate by example Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel’s letter read at the news conference: “The world must be made to realize that their slience only helps the jailer, never the prisoner."
In Rome, Mayor Gianni Alemanno and other VIPs, including Shalit’s father, will take part in a ceremony Thursday in Rome, where the floodlights illuminating the ancient Colosseum will be turned off at 11 p.m. — midnight Israeli time. Last year, Alemanno made Shalit an honorary citizen of the Eternal City.
The floodlights will be turned off as well at the Castello Sforzesco in Milan and the Mole Antonelliano in Turin, a towering building that is the symbol of the city and originally was designed, but never used, as a synagogue.
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat also has ordered the lights around the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem to be turned off in solidarity with Shalit.