It finally happened!
After many years of wishing, hoping and praying for the day that Gilad Shalit would be returned safely to the loving arms of his family and his people, I am searching to find the right words to express my feelings from yesterday evening as we watched the unfolding events of that long-awaited homecoming.
A capacity crowd of well over 400 people packed into the Auditorium at Beth Weizmann to watch Gilad receive his freedom.
I think it might be best to allow pictures to show the scene.
This was the one of the first images of Gilad on Israeli television:
Here, he is being escorted by Egyptian officials after his release from terrorist Hamas captivity. The first image of Gilad, visual confirmation that he is alive and one of a few images from yesterday that will be forever etched in my memory.
Next, we watched an interview with him conducted on Egyptian TV. It was a truly shameful, exploitative interview conducted by Egyptian journalist Sharia Amin, who made my blood boil.
This was a violation of not only journalistic ethics but of any standard of morality. I believe Gilad was interviewed against Israel’s wishes. He looked drawn and tired and did not need to be subjected to a public interview being flashed across television screens internationally. He simply needed to go home and be with his loved ones. Instead, we witnessed a horribly cheap attempt at a “scoop” of the day in a process lacking in any integrity whatsoever and with an interviewer bereft of any sympathy or understanding of what her subject had been through.
The questioning went from banal to inane. Among the appalling questions was one about Palestinian prisoners where she asked, “Gilad, you know what it’s like to be in captivity… There are more than 4,000 Palestinians still languishing in Israeli jails. Will you help campaign for their release?” To which Gilad replied, “I’d be very happy if they were released, provided they don’t return to fighting Israel”. The interviewer was asking the questions in English, which were translated to Gilad in Hebrew, while his responses were translated into Arabic. Even more appallingly, the Egyptian interpreter translated Gilad’s response as “I will be very happy for the prisoners to go free, so that they can be able to go back to their families, loved ones and territory. It will give me great happiness if this happens”. Worse still, the BBC and many other news outlets continually repeated the lies (see more). Ms. Amin’s questioning became so stupid that when she asked him about what plans he had for the future, I thought for a moment that her next idiotic question would be to ask him if he thought Maccabi Haifa might win the next Israeli soccer championship (or for a more local reference, if Collingwood might win next year’s AFL premiership!).
The most accurate commentary of these moments came from Adel Abdel Ghafar, an Egyptian graduate student based here in Australia who tweeted “After 5 years in captivity, Schalit has to go through one last form of torture: an interview with Egyptian Public TV”.
After that disgraceful interview finished airing we started to see some heart-warming images such as this one of Gilad Shalit talking to his parents for the first time:
Gilad on Israeli soil, having changed out of the clothes he had been released in, and into an army uniform, which also reflects the promotions he has received from the army since his kidnapping:
Gilad saluting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he arrives at the Air Force base Tel Nof. PM Netanyahu told Gilad Shalit, “Welcome to Israel”, and then borrowing a line from an Arik Einstein song that has become one of the unofficial “anthems” of Gilad’s release declared, “it’s good that you’re home”.
Hugging IDF Chief Benny Gantz upon his return:
The scenes of Gilad Shalit arriving at the base and being greeted by the Prime Minister can be viewed here.
Perhaps one of the images we have been waiting to see the most over the last five years and four months, Gilad Shalit embracing his father, Noam Shalit, for the first time:
Gilad walking with Minister of Defence, Ehud Barak, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his father Noam Shalit to meet the rest of his family:
Gilad walking to the helicopter that would take him to his home in Mitzpe Hila as his family, including his father Noam, his mother Aviva and his brother Yoel, walks behind him:
There is also a very moving video of this moment that can be seen here.
Gilad Shalit’s helicopter arrives at Mitzpe Hila, the final stop in his journey home:
It had been reported earlier in the Israeli media that Gilad’s hometown would be closed off to non-residents on the day of his return, but it appeared that they simply could not stop the hundreds of people who flocked there with Israeli flags and white flowers to show their support for Gilad and his family.
This picture of the crowds waving and cheering at the cars that were escorting Gilad and his family from the helicopter to the front door of his family home does not do the scene justice:
I am not sure if I have ever witnessed in my lifetime a more joyful scene, with people waving the Israeli flags up high, throwing flowers at the cars as the passed, all the while singing “Hevenu Shalom Aleichem” and chanting “Gilad Shalit has returned home in peace!” The scene itself highlighted everything I love about Israel.
Later in the evening, Noam Shalit spoke to the press outside his family home, and he said, “When I first saw Gilad, I did not say much, I just hugged him”. After expressing his gratitude to the public for their support and to the government, he also acknowledged the deep pain of the families of victims of terror, who would not be rejoicing as their family member’s killers walked free. He also said, “the first thing that we did when Gilad came home was have a family meal after a very long day” (see more). I simply cannot imagine what it would have felt like to carry out such a simple act like sitting down for a family meal, something we all take for granted, after so many painful meals apart.
Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the Israeli public following the release, making some very poignant statements about his responsibility to bring Gilad home. He stated, “I saw the need to return home someone whom the State of Israel had sent to the battlefield. As an IDF soldier and commander, I went out on a dangerous mission many times. But I always knew that if I or one of my comrades fell captive, the Government of Israel would do its utmost to return us home, and as Prime Minister, I have now carried this out”.
He continued, “I know very well that the pain of the families of the victims of terrorism is too heavy to bear. It is difficult to see the miscreants who murdered their loved ones being released before serving out their full sentences. But I also knew that in the current diplomatic circumstances, this was the best agreement that we could achieve… I thought of Gilad and the five years that he spent rotting away in Hamas cell. I did not want his fate to be that of Ron Arad. Ron fell captive exactly 25 years ago and has yet to return.”
Sending a very clear message to the terrorist thugs that were celebrating on the other side of the border he declared, “I would like to make it clear: we will continue to fight terrorism. Any released terrorist who returns to terrorism – his blood is upon his head. The State of Israel is different from its enemies: Here, we do not celebrate the release of murderers. Here, we do not applaud those who took life. On the contrary, we believe in the sanctity of life” (see more).
I am not sure that PM Netanyahu’s differentiation between the terrorists released and Gilad Shalit has truly been understood by most, with even UN Secretary –General Ban ki-Moon who stated “I am very encouraged by the prisoner exchange today after many many years of negotiations… The United Nations has been calling for (and end to) the unacceptable detention of Gilad Shalit and also the release of all Palestinians whose human rights have been abused all the time” (see more).
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch said, “Mr. Ban needs to clarify whether, as it appears, he was referring to the Palestinians who committed such gruesome crimes as the bombing of Jerusalem’s Sbarro pizzeria, that killed 15, the bombing of a Tel Aviv nightclub that killed 21, and the bombing of Netanya’s Park Hotel that killed 29 people attending a Passover Seder”. The attempt by Ban ki-Moon to make some sort of a connection between the two sides, when on all levels of morality none existing is shameful. That our Middle East correspondents for our local papers, such as Ruth Pollard of the Age, do the same, is not surprising. Pollard saw it fit to report that “many [of the Palestinian prisoners] had been in jail for decades, often held in terrible conditions and with severe restrictions on visits by family and friends” (see more) but made no direct reference to their unspeakable crimes that landed them in jail. Watching well-fed joyful Palestinian murderers (who had access to mobile phones, higher education and conjugal visits among other things) return home in contrast to the thin and pale Gilad Shalit makes me wonder who was given a more respectful treatment and whether our media has any more scruples and ethics that Egypt’s Ms. Amin.
That neither our correspondents from our local media or a world leader could make any intelligent comment about the deal to release 1,027 criminals for one innocent Israeli soldier goes beyond my comprehension. But please read this article by Faisal Al Qasim, a Druze Syrian journalist based by Doha, who writes, “it is not a secret at all that the value of an Arab person in the stock-exchange of Arab regimes is sort of nil. He is as valueless as an onion’s peel. One should not expect of regimes which treat their downtrodden people like dirt by torturing and starving them inside their countries to care about an Arab captive in Israeli or other foreign jails”. Please also read ‘Bravo for these people, these Israelis’ by Bradley Burston from Haaretz.
But to be honest, for today I do not want to focus on the Australian or other world media. I do not want to focus on the barbaric celebrations that took place in Gaza and the West Bank or the fact that two of the female Palestinian terrorists were reluctant to return to their people for fear of their lives.
I would just like to express my pride, firstly as a Jew who watched my nation do everything they can do “return our sons to their borders”. I would like to also express my pride as a member of the Melbourne Zionist community and to thank everyone for not forgetting Gilad’s plight over the last 5 and a half years, for keeping him in your thoughts and prayers. It is with great relief that I finally deleted the number of days that Gilad has been in captivity from the side-bar of this email. Time to rejoice readers – Gilad is finally free.
(Gilad walks towards his family home in Mitzpe Hila)
Please read my reflective piece that appeared in last week’s Australian Jewish News, which probably best sums up my feelings that Gilad was to be released.
Chag Sameach to you all!
Agree / Disagree with something that is written here? Have your say by clicking here.
Please note that no email addresses or surnames will ever be published here.
01. Susan – Montreal. Quebec. Canada
I would like to see this excellent article printed in every major newspaper in the world.