Noam and Aviva Schalit heard details of their son Gilad’s pending release from
captivity in Gaza from IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen Benny Gantz who met with them
on Thursday night behind closed doors in their Mitzpe Hila home.
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entered and exited their house without speaking with the media.
expected that Gilad will be flown from Egypt
to a military base in the center of
the country, Tel Nof. From there, he will be flown to Mitzpe
During the day, as reporters and visitors crowded around their
home, the family worked to prepare for Gilad’s return. At times they could be
seen cleaning out their yard.
They arrived in Mitzpe Hila on Wednesday
evening from Jerusalem, at the start of the Succot holiday, to the cheers of
“I am happy to return home and I’m waiting for Gilad,”
Noam told reporters.
“I want to see him coming down the stairs of the
house and then the circle will be closed. It’s been a long road and it’s time
for Gilad to come home,” he added.
On Wednesday night and on Thursday
they received a number of high profile visitors including Ehud Goldwasser’s
parents and Eldad Regev’s father. Goldwasser and Regev were killed along the
Lebanese border in July 2006, after which Hezbollah kidnapped their bodies.
Until the return of their bodies to Israel in a 2008 prisoner exchange it was
not known if they were dead or alive.
“I can understand what they are
feeling,” Tzvi Regev told reporters on Wednesday night outside the Schalit home.
He too had waited with anticipation for his son, but his story ended very
“Our son returned in a coffin, and Gilad is coming home
alive. I am very happy for them,” he said.
The family first gathered in
their Mitzpe Hila home in June 2006, as they reeled from the news that Gilad was
kidnapped along the Gaza border at age 19.
After close to four years of
campaigning for Gilad’s release from their home, Noam and Aviva closed their
front door and set out for Jerusalem on foot in July 2010.
Once in the
capital they sat for 15 months in a protest tent activists had set up in
Jerusalem near the prime minister’s home, determined not to return until their
son was with them.
Once the cabinet approved a deal for Gilad’s release
shortly after midnight on Wednesday, Noam and Aviva decided they would welcome
their returning son — now 25 — in Mitzpe Hila.
Before leaving Jerusalem
on Wednesday, they sat in the tent one last time and spoke with the media and
activists about their joy at the news and their concerns for this critical
period in which they wait for Gilad to be released from Gaza, where he has been
held by Hamas.
“This joy is mingled with many fears. Obviously, he won’t
be the same boy that left,” Aviva said, as she sat in the tent for the last
Their son Yoel, his girlfriend Yaara Winkler and the Ashkenazi
Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, sat with them in the tent.
Earlier in the day,
Noam and Aviva met with President Shimon President at his Jerusalem home a short
“We waited many days, weeks and years for this moment,”
Noam told Peres.
“Now we are anxiously waiting to see Gilad, something
that we have not been able to do for many years,” he said.
Both Peres and
Noam thanked Egypt and Germany for their efforts in securing a deal with Hamas
to release Gilad in exchange for 1,027 security prisoners in Israeli
jails. Noam also thanked the government, the prime minister, as well as
French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gilad holds dual Israeli-French citizenship
and France lobbied hard on his behalf over the last five years.
acknowledged that the deal, which included the release of prisoners responsible
for terror attacks against Israel, was not easy for the families of the
“I am aware of their pain of these families,” he said, and added
that this was a time when the nation should embrace them.
said, that the “families of terror victims will always be with us.”
also recalled Lt. Hanan Barak and Staff- Sgt. Pavel Slutzker who were killed in
the same attack in which her son was kidnapped.
“We will always remember
them,” she said.
Earlier in the day, they also met with the French
Ambassador to Israel Christophe Bigot.
To the sound of activists
cheering, “going home,” Noam and Aviva left the Jerusalem protest tent and
entered a gray car for the return drive to Mitzpe Hila.
Some of the
activists cheered and called out after them, then they burst into
tears.Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this report.