Gilad Shalit on Tuesday called on US President Barack Obama to free the Israeli-American spy Jonathan Pollard from prison, saying they both drank from the “poisoned cup of captivity and imprisonment.”
The warm relations between the US and Israel are marred by the “long, too long, imprisonment of our brother Jonathan Pollard,” Shalit — who was released from Hamas captivity after being abducted and held by the terror organization for more than five years — wrote in an open letter to Obama published by Israel’s Channel 2 news.
Shai Gross, who was on the 1976 Air France flight hijacked to Entebbe, also put his name to the public plea to the American president.
“Both of us were set free because of the decisions of political leaders,” the two wrote Obama, adding it wasn’t always a logical decision and that it contradicted recommendations of the security establishment leaders.
“A man who loses his freedom pays an irreversible price. However, we’ve both experienced the redemption, the gaining of freedom, the ability to return and live as free people,” they told Obama.
“Your visit in Israel, right before our holiday of freedom, lights the roots of the deep values that guided [previous leaders]. Moses’s call ‘Let my people go’ echoes in every Jew… [It] calls on leaders of this people to make unusual decisions when freedom is at hand.
“We know the circumstances of our captivity and those of Pollard’s can’t be compared,” the two former prisoners wrote, adding they don’t take the US need for national security and rule of law lightly.
The calls of former American leaders and officials for Pollard’s release after 28 years “is enough for us two,” Shalit and Gross stated. “Mister president, continue the glorious tradition of the leaders who preferred freedom, humanity and compassion. Release our brother Jonathan!”
Outside President Shimon Peres’s residence on Tuesday evening, an estimated 1,000 protesters gathered to urge Obama to release Pollard, who is serving a life term in solitary confinement. Protesters held posters that read “Welcome Mr. President! Please free Pollard.” Other signs had the images of Obama and Pollard and read, “Yes, you can.” Others hoisted giant pictures of American legislators who support Pollard’s release.
Obama said in an interview last week that he did not intend to free Pollard immediately, but would ensure rights available to all prisoners were made available to Pollard.
Pollard’s wife, Esther, was among the speakers at the Tuesday protest, declaring that every voice in support of his release extended his life a little longer. Obama will hold two meetings at Peres’s residence, on Wednesday and Thursday, the latter of which will conclude with a state dinner in his honor.
Some 200,000 Israelis have signed a petition for Pollard’s release, which Esther delivered to Peres, and which Peres is to hand to Obama.
In the US, 30 national Jewish organizations that are members of the Conference of Presidents joined in a pre-Passover appeal — led by Conference leaders Richard Stone, Chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, Executive Vice Chairman — requesting that Obama release Pollard prior to his reaching his 10,000th day of imprisonment, which will fall on April 8.
Wishing the president a successful trip to the Middle East, the leaders “respectfully and urgently” requested that the president “act on the commutation of his sentence to time served before this milestone is reached. Mr. Pollard, whose health has deteriorated, has expressed remorse and regret repeatedly.”
They also noted, “Many leading American citizens of every faith and position have spoken publicly” on Pollard’s behalf, “including those that were involved in his prosecution… We add our voice to theirs, as we have in the past, to ask that you take the steps necessary to expedite the review process you have mentioned and to facilitate the release of Mr. Pollard in an act of both justice and humanity.”