“That’s him!,” screamed activist Daniel Hendel Lvi.
She had been standing on Monday morning in Gilad Schalit’s home town of Mitzpe Hila, near an outdoor studio set up by Channel 2.
Suddenly, out of the corner of her eye she saw her first glimpse of the captive solider as he emerged from Gaza after five-years of captivity on a small television screen.
West Bank residents celebrate Schalit prisoner releases
The Gilad Schalit prisoner swap in pictures
She burst into tears, as other activists and reporters immediately crowded around the Channel 2 set, whose reporters were in the midst of interviewing Shlomo and Miki Goldwasser. The Goldwasser's son Ehud’s body was return to Israel in 2008 in a prisoner swap.
Almost immediately shots of Gilad wearing a baseball cap, were shown on a
large television screen that had been set up at the entry of the small
paved road that leads to the Schalit’s home.
Ohad Kerner, one of the lead activists in the Schalit campaign screamed with joy and then hugged another activists.
Both were wearing white T-shirts that said, “It’s so good that you have returned home.”
Looking up suddenly, at the crown of photographers and cameramen who
crowded around him to capture the moment, he said, “It’s our first
glimpse of him.”
He put his hand on his heart as he spoke.
Spontaneously, he thanked everyone involved in making the deal.
He also paused to give a message to the bereaved families who had
opposed the swap, which released terrorists responsible for killing
their loved ones.
“Please understand,” he said, “this was a fight for his life.”
Goldwasser, whose story ended so differently, told reporters that she felt “amazing” and “euphoric” watching the first shots of Gilad.
Her son, along with reservists Eldad Regev, was killed in an attack on the northern border just weeks after Gilad was kidnapped.
For two years, until the bodies of Ehud and Eldad were return to Israel, no one knew if they were dead or alive.
The initial campaign to free Gilad, was a call to release all three men. “Unfortunately, my son did not survive,” said Goldwasser. “So I am glad to see that Gilad is alive. I saw from the pictures that he is fine.”
Since 2008, she said, she had continued to help the Schalit family.
“I am a soldier in their army,” she said, so it was important for her to come to Mitzpe Hila to be with them in this moment.
She was not the only one who arrived.
Activist David Renov from an area community, who is a veteran of the first Lebanon war, said he was compelled to come to Mitzpe Hila for Gilad’s return.
“I felt from the moment that he was captured like a relative of mine was captured,” he said.
“I suffered thinking of him in a hole in the ground. I felt like a part of myself was missing and in jail,’ he said.
“I didn’t feel like I could be anywhere else, to see it and hear it on television was not enough,” he said.
Wearing a traditional Bedouin robe and white cloth head covering, Sheikh Salaam Hozel of Rhatat who had also worked on Gilad’s behalf said, “I wanted to bless Noam.”
Yaakov Kassis from the Christian Arab village Melia located right below Mitzpe Hila, said that, “I am very happy. It was difficult for the family.”
One observer who mulled about, held up a sign with a photograph of Netanyahu and the slogan, “a strong leader for the future of Israel.”
“Only this prime minister could have done this,” he said.