- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2008

TEL AVIV — Amid heightened speculation about progress on a prisoner swap between Hamas and Israel, a group of Israelis wants to keep up pressure for the release of kidnapped Cpl. Gilad Shalit by publishing a long-forgotten school assignment as a children’s book.

“When the Shark and the Fish First Met” was penned 10 years ago by Cpl. Shalit, who has been held in Gaza for the past 18 months. He was in fifth grade at the time, and his former teacher rediscovered the assignment.

The story tells of two young fish who strike up a friendship despite the mutual enmity inbred from their parents — a fable that sounds as if it were based on the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

The story and a series of drawings are slated to be published in Hebrew this month. Sponsors of the project hope eventually to publish an Arabic translation and distribute it in the Palestinian territories.

“It’s a universal story. It’s like the lamb lying down with the wolf,” said Lee Rimon, who runs the Edge Gallery in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, where the pictures for the book are on display.

“We hope this story will reach kids all over the world, especially kids in conflict zones.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheik last month.

In addition to discussing weapons smuggling over Egypt’s border with Gaza, Mr. Barak was reported to have discussed with Mr. Suleiman indirect talks with Hamas on trading hundreds of Palestinian prisoners from the Islamic militant group in return for Cpl. Shalit.

Cpl. Shalit, 21, was kidnapped during a June 2006 cross-border raid by Hamas militants from Gaza. His capture, followed by similar abductions of Israeli soldiers by Hezbollah in a raid from southern Lebanon, led to a series of incursions by Israeli troops into Gaza and Lebanon that summer.

Israeli officials in recent weeks reportedly have considered easing a series of conditions that would allow the government to increase the number of Palestinian prisoners it could release in such an exchange.

Speculation of a prisoner deal surged after Hamas made a cease-fire offer to Israel, which Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ultimately rejected. Both sides have said formally that no progress has been made on the talks.

“The less we talk in public, the more we help bring Gilad home,” Mr. Barak said during the trip in Sharm el Sheik.

The illustrations for the book, provided by members of the Israel Association of Illustrators, initially were commissioned for an art exhibition.

The sponsors of the project hope the art exhibit will tour the country. At the same time, they have prepared a “coloring book” in English, Arabic and Hebrew to encourage children to contribute their own drawings.

“The story looked so current and also so naive. It’s a utopia that we wish could happen, and especially in the Middle East, we wish we could have friendship,” said Noga Shimmel, who heads the illustrators association.

“It’s an optimistic message because we hope Gilad will come back. It’s got to be positive. We want a positive end.”

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