‘Free Gilad Shalit’ billboard to go up in Los Angeles [VIDEO]

A billboard that calls for the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit will go up on La Cienega Boulevard, just south of Olympic Boulevard, on Monday, August 8.

In 2006, Hamas, the ruling political party in the Gaza Strip, kidnapped Shalit, who turns 25 this month, and has held him in captivity since.

A large photograph of Shalit will appear on the billboard, along with the text: “I was kidnapped by Hamas on June 25, 2006. I have been held hostage … This summer I will turn 25 years old.  Where did you spend your birthday this year? Free Gilad Shalit.”

Gal Sitty, 28, a resident of Studio City, coordinated the effort to put up the billboard, raising approximately $7,000 to purchase the billboard through the new web site, Epicstep.com.

Sitty said the aim of the billboard is to keep the public focused on working toward Shalit’s release.

“I started to think of ways of how I could keep this all in the media, to raise awareness, to press on leaders, show people how important it is to help him out,” Sitty said.

“I think it’s absolutely imperative that the people who can act, i.e. [Benjamin] Netanyahu and other people in the Israeli government, have to do anything and everything they can to bring him back, especially because he was a solider for the state of Israel and gave everything he can for the state,” Sitty added.

The billboard will remain up through approximately the first week of September.

Sitty said he chose the location on La Cienega Boulevard for its proximity to the Israeli consulate and other Jewish institutions, including the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles and the Simon Weisenthal Center.

He hopes the Los Angeles billboard will get approximately number 200,000 “exposures” – billboard industry lingo for “pair of eyes” – each week, a figure quoted to him by the company that owns the billboard space.

Last month, Sitty successfully led an effort to get a similar billboard up New York, and the New York billboard enjoyed approximately 300,000 exposures each week.

Sitty said he became more focused on ending Shalit’s imprisonment in 2010, after witnessing the march for Gilad Shalit in Israel. He was chaperoning a Birthright Israel trip at the time, and watched with the group and the other trip guides in Tel Aviv as thousands of Israelis rallied for Shalit’s release.

“In Israel everybody has many opinions, and are divided on everything politically, but on this, there was nothing controversial about it,” Sitty said. [They all said] they want Gilad Shalit back.”

The success of the New York billboard – which was located at the corner of 10th Avenue and 35th Street in Manhattan, New York – convinced Sitty to work toward getting a billboard up in Los Angeles, the second largest Jewish community in the United States.

Through Epicstep.com, billboards go up for one month at a time. Epicstep allows anybody to create billboards around any campaign idea or cause. Once a user has created a campaign on the website, the site gives he/she the price and the location of where the billboard is going to be, and then that person uses their website to collect donations—known as “crowdfunding.”

Epicstep.com was started by Lev Reys and Eugene and Gene Veksler, who are all Jewish. The site launched about four months ago.

“I’m just really happy that it happened and that it was able to successfully fund,” Reys said.

Sitty said there might be more free-Shalit billboards in the future.

“I’ve heard from other people who still want to put up billboards in other cities,” he said. “So I want to keep strategizing to do that.”

In a recent issue of the Journal, editor-in-chief Rob Eshman wrote a column about Sitty’s New York billboard.

[UPDATE: Tuesday, August 9]

The billboard went up today, on La Cienega Boulevard between Olympic Boulevard and Whitworth Drive. The text of the billboard includes, “I have been held hostage for 1,867 days and counting,” and the billboard space is owned by CBS. See it below.