Keith Ellison, to Hamas leader: Let Gilad Shalit go

Keith Ellison wants Khaled Mashal to set Galid Shalit free.

Keith Ellison wants Khaled Mashal to set Galid Shalit free.

Keith Ellison and a group of prominent American Muslims have sent a letter to Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, asking that he release an Israeli soldier from prison.

In the letter, Ellison and others plead that Galid Shalit be set free on religious grounds. The letter asks that Hamas reconsider Shalit's case in light of Ramadan, the month-long Muslim holiday that ended yesterday. Ellison has been on the case since he met with Shalit's parents in Washington, D.C. several years ago.

Reached by phone, Ellison, who's in town for an event earlier today with Tim Walz and Nancy Pelosi, told City Pages that Hamas letting Shalit out is the kind of gesture that could lead to substantive talks in the world's most intractable foreign policy struggle.

"The Israeli-Palestinian conflict seems so stuck," Ellison said. "It just feels like if [Shalit] would be released, that might open some space for real dialogue and progress."


Joining Ellison, America's first Muslim Congressman, in signing the second, Indiana's Andre Carson. Other signers are prominent Muslim academics and advocates, including Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, leader of the Cordoba Institute, the group that faced opposition when it tried to build a mosque a few blocks from Ground Zero in New York City.

Shalit, seen here on his French passport, has been in prison for five years.

Shalit, seen here on his French passport, has been in prison for five years.

Ellison said he doesn't know if the group's "little letter" will be enough to secure Shalit's release, but said the timing -- the letter is dated August 26, at the tail end of Ramadan -- was right to reach out to Hamas.

"Ramadan is a time when we think of doing -- of pardoing of prisoners, pardoning of people," Ellison said. "It's a general period of reflection, reconciliation."

The letter, which Ellison said was his idea originally, makes specific references to the utterances of Muhammad or passages in the Koran in trying to sway Mashal. 

Shalit, a French citizen and former corporal in the Israeli Army, has been in a Palestinian prison for more than five years. Ellison does not otherwise have open lines with Hamas, the militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, but said Shalit's case has become a symbol for injustices carried out on both sides of the conflict.

"[Shalit] has become an iconic figure in Israel and in Palestinian areas and all over," Ellison said. "The problem is, you've got two sides that say, 'Well we're not going to release anyone until they release this one. ' So I'm like, look, sometimes, give the first give."

Ellison made a point to say that the letter was meant to actually secure Shalit's release, and didn't mean to make it a story for the media until Politico's Ben Smith wrote about the letter.

"I didn't see any point in acting coy about it," Ellison said. "I mean, yeah, we did it. But this was not done so the press would find out, it was done to try to get some progress."

Read Ellison's letter in full: