Yoel Schalit helps pack ahead of departure 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
To the sound of activists cheering, “going home,” the family of captive soldier Gilad Schalit left the Jerusalem protest tent on Wednesday, to return to their Mitzpe Hila home in the Upper Galilee.
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The family first gathered in their small hilltop community in June 2006, as they reeled from the news that Gilad was kidnapped along the Gaza border at age 19.
It was from Mitzpe Hlia that Gilad’s parents, Noam and Aviva set out on foot in July 2010 for a protest tent in Jerusalem near the prime minister’s home, determined not to return until their son was with them.
Now, that the cabinet has approved a deal for Gilad’ release, Noam and Aviva want to welcome their returning son — now 25 — in Mitzpe Hila.
Before leaving Jerusalem, they 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,” she said, as she sat in the tent for the last time.
Their son Yoel, his girlfriend Yaara Winkler and the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger, sat with them in the tent, which will remain intact until Gilad is back in Israel.
Earlier in the day, Aviva and Noam met with President Shimon President at his Jerusalem home a short distance away.
“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 its 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 the French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Gilad holds dual Israeli-French citizenship and France lobbied hard on his behalf over the last five years.
Peres acknowledged that the deal, which included the release of prisoners responsible for terror attacks against Israel, was not easy for the families of the victims.
“I am aware of their pain of these families,” he said, and added that this was a time when the nation should embrace them.
Aviva also said, that the “families of terror victims will always be with us.”
She 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.
As the Schalit’s left Jerusalem in a gray car, some of the activists cheered and called out after them. Then they broke into tears.