July 17, 2007
By MICHAL LANDO
Thousands of Americans gather to show solidarity for Israel's
kidnapped soldiers in New York on Monday. Photo: Kfir Ziv
One year after the capture of two IDF reservists that sparked the Second Lebanon War, about a thousand Americans rallied outside the United Nations to once again demand that the international body do more to release Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev, as well as Gilad Schalit, kidnapped on the Gaza border.
Speaking at the rally, Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel said the "cowards and criminals" who captured the soldiers a year ago "must and will realize that their inhuman behavior has caused international outrage to all civilized people."
Joining him at the podium were national leaders and dignitaries, including Karnit and Miki Goldwasser, wife and mother, respectively, of kidnapped reservist Ehud Goldwasser; Israel's Consul-General in New York Arye Mekel; national, state and local legislators, and leaders of the African-American, Korean, Latino, Russian-speaking, and Turkish-American communities.
Organizers included the American Zionist Movement, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, UJA-Federation of New York, and the United Jewish Communities.
Following the rally, a petition with more than 50,000 signatures was delivered to the UN demanding the unconditional release of the Israeli soldiers kidnapped by Hamas and Hizbullah.
The theme of the rally was "We have not forgotten and we will not forget," a symbol of American Jews' commitment to actively participate in efforts to return the soldiers, and pressure the UN, along with other international organizations, to secure their release.
"The release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston demonstrates that international pressure does work," said Conference of Presidents Chairperson June Walker.
But several of the speakers expressed dismay with the UN for failing to abide by Resolution 1701, which demands the soldiers' release.
"The UN resolution that ended the [Second Lebanon] war had as a condition that the soldiers must be freed," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the 8th Congressional District. "What have they done to enforce it? Not a heck of a lot. What have they done to prevent the smuggling of arms to Hizbullah? Not a heck of a lot."
Late last week, the UN's Middle East envoy, Michael Williams, said that little progress has been made in talks with Hizbullah.
Addressing this issue at a press conference Monday morning, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon said: "Because of the sensitivity involving the safe return of the soldiers, I have not said much publicly. The less said publicly will be better for the situation."
Despite this, however, Ban told reporters that his efforts to release all three soldiers would continue.
On another note, the secretary-general said he was encouraged by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's offer to speak with Syrian President Bashar Assad. "As the secretary-general, I... would be happy to facilitate such initiatives," Ban said.
Speaking at the rally, Mekel said that "the people across the street [at the UN] should really reflect on what they have done and what they have not done."
Though the secretary-general's efforts "may be right or wrong," Mekel said he trusted Ban.
Karnit Goldwasser, Ehud's wife, concluded the afternoon rally by encouraging Americans to "raise their voices" to demand the release of her husband. She also called on the parents of Lebanese prisoners to make their voices heard.
"Maybe someone is paying them to be quiet," said Goldwasser. "But if they raise their voices, I am sure they could get their sons back. [Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah, who promised to return the Lebanese prisoners, said he was a great leader, but it doesn't seem like it."