Strolling up Jerusalem’s Rechov Aza (Gaza Street) with Stuey and Dexxy last Wednesday teatime, I passed a tent which (from news coverage) I immediately recognised to be that set up by the family of Gilad Shalit.
Expecting only to find a handful of hard core activists inside – perhaps students and/or OAPs with too much time on their hands – I was amazed to see a seated Noam Shalit, the father of the kidnapped Israeli soldier.
I was taken aback. And seeing Mr. Shalit in the flesh for the first time brought home to me – in a way that none of the “Free Gilad” campaigns could or, indeed, have (see Why Gilad must not be freed “at any price”) – the desperation of a parent to be reunited with his child.
I continued walking past the banners unfurled across the perimeter walls of the Prime Minister’s official residence (outside which the protest tent was set up in March 2009) – including one showing that the 24-year old had been in captivity for a staggering 1,641 days (he was captured on June 25, 2006) – but wondered whether it would be more menschdik to pop in and pay my respects. After all, doing nothing is easy; and this was the very least I could do.
So, having made an about turn, I nervously entered the tent and, finding myself face to face with Mr. Shalit, reverted – as I always do under the slightest pressure (though usually under rather different circumstances, chatting up totty on Rothschild) – to my mother tongue, babbling some incoherent platitudes at him. (I have always been crap at the shiva visit. And while this is not a shiva house, it very much has the feel of one.)
Mr. Shalit looked up at me with the tired expression of the mourner. And his English was much poorer than I would have imagined, after years of interviews by the foreign press.
“Are you here a lot?” I enquired of him, enunciating each word as if for the hearing impaired.
“I live here,” came the terse reply.
“Oh,” I said. Derrr. I had missed that nugget.
“Anyway,” I continued, desperate suddenly for the exit, “I just wanted to say that I hope Gilad gets released soon.”
But before Mr. Shalit had finished mumbling a cursory “Thank you,” Dexxy was up on the visitors table, swiping a large, particularly inviting-looking slice of chocolate cake off it.
My host looked even less pleased than usual.
“Err, sorry, Mr. Shalit,” I muttered, reverting to naughty Hasmo boy mode, all the while trying – and failing – to wrest the cake from Dexxy’s jaws.
And then I was out of there.
Even with the best of intentions, it is sometimes wisest just to keep on walking.