U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and 11 other Muslim-American leaders have sent a letter to the leader of Hamas, imploring him to release Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped five years ago.
Because the U.S. government rightly considers Hamas a terrorist organization, it’s not known how, or if, Hamas will respond. But it is clear how the Israeli government feels about the effort.
“We can’t tell you how much we appreciate the support of the congressman for the efforts to release Gilad Shalit
,” said Shahar Arieli
, the deputy consul general of Israel.
Arieli, who is based in Chicago, was in Minneapolis
on Wednesday, and said in an interview that Shalit’s captivity is “a terrible tragedy for us. It’s like a whole state is holding its breath for one person.”
Ellison believes it’s a terrible tragedy, too. And he thinks it not only hurts the push for Palestinian statehood (he told me the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “intractable at this point”), but betrays the values of his faith.
“Ramadan is a time where you should try to reconcile, make peace, set captives free. It’s a time of renewal,” said Ellison, who led the letter-writing effort and then worked through the Carter Center to get it delivered.
“It’s a statement that as you are trying to represent our faith in a certain way, we here want to stand and say ‘We don’t believe in what you are doing, and we stand against it.’ It’s being a witness in a way,” he said, continuing that “we will let the world know that these people over there are doing an evil thing in the name of our faith, and that we will not be silent.”
Ellison also won’t be silent on support for Palestinian statehood, and that Palestinians held by Israel should “also be given due process, and be freed if the law says they should.”
Arieli appreciates Ellison’s efforts not just on Shalit, but on the peace process.
“Leaders in the American-Muslim community can have a lot of influence sending messages to the Palestinian people in general on the importance of negotiations as the primary way to reach peace.”
As for Shalit, both Ellison and Arieli separately, and perhaps subconsciously, were struck by his youth: He was just 19 when he was taken.
“Gilad Shalit is not responsible for Israeli occupation,” Ellison, who has met with Shalit’s parents, said. “He’s a soldier, but he’s a kid, too.”
“The whole nation is afraid for the fate of this boy,” Arieli said. “Because it’s like the ‘Three Musketeers’ – one for all, all for one, only it’s millions.”
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John Rash is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist.