“That’s him!” screamed activist Daniella Hendel Levi.
She stood in Gilad
Schalit’s hometown of Mitzpe Hila on Monday morning, near an outdoor studio set
up by Channel 2, one of many supporters who converged on the community near the
Lebanese border in anticipation of the soldier’s return.
Schalit: I thought I'd be held captive for years to come
Live blog: Schalit returns to Israel
The Gilad Schalit prisoner swap in pictures
Suddenly, out of
the corner of her eye, on a small television screen, Levi caught her first
glimpse of Schalit as he emerged from the Gaza Strip after more than five years
She burst into tears, as other activists and reporters
immediately crowded around the Channel 2 studio.
Sitting at a table, in
the midst of an interview, were Shlomo and Miki Goldwasser.
Ehud’s body was returned to Israel in July 2008 in a prisoner
Within minutes, a thin, pale Gilad in Egypt, wearing a baseball cap
and a button-down shirt, was seen on a large television screen set up at the
entry to the small road leading to the Schalit home.
Ohad Kerner, one of
the leaders in the campaign to free Schalit, screamed with joy, and then hugged
Both men wore white T-shirts that read, “It’s so good
that you’ve come back home.”
To the photographers and cameramen who
crowded around him, Kerner said, “It’s our first glimpse of him.” He put his
hand on his heart as he spoke.
Spontaneously, he thanked everyone
involved in reaching the deal with Hamas.
He also had a message for the
bereaved families who had opposed the swap that released terrorists responsible
for killing their loved ones.
“Please understand, this was a fight for
his life,” Kerner said.
Miki Goldwasser, whose story ended so
differently, told reporters she felt “amazing” and “euphoric” watching the first
shots of Gilad.
Her son, Sgt.-Maj. Ehud Goldwasser, 30, along with fellow
reservist St.-Sgt. Maj. Eldad Regev, 25, was killed in a Hezbollah attack on the
northern border, 17 days after Schalit was kidnapped near the Gaza
For two years, until the bodies of Ehud and Eldad were returned to
Israel, no one in Israel knew if they were dead or alive.
campaign to free Schalit was a call to release all three
“Unfortunately, my son did not survive,” Miki Goldwasser said. “So I
am glad to see that Gilad is alive. I saw from the pictures that he is
Since 2008, she said, she had continued to help the Schalit
“I am a soldier in their army,” she said, so it was important for
her to come to Mitzpe Hila to be with them at this time.
Renov, from a nearby community, is a veteran of the First Lebanon War. He also
said he needed to come to Mitzpe Hila for Schalit’s return.
“I felt from
the moment that he was captured like a relative of mine was captured,” Renov
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
Wearing a Beduin robe and a white head covering, Sheikh Salaam
Hozel of Rahat, who also worked on Schalit’s behalf said, “I wanted to bless
Yaakov Kassis from the Christian village of Mi’ilya, located right
below Mitzpe Hila, said, “I am very happy. It was difficult for the
Also among the Schalit supporters in Mitzpe Hila was Azzam
Azzam, a Druse from Maghar
in the Upper Galilee who was freed from an Egyptian
jail in 2004, after eight years.
He told the The Jerusalem Post
was still plagued by nightmares from the experience.
“The trauma hasn’t
left me,” he said. “At night it all comes back.”
When Gilad was kidnapped
in 2006, Azzam traveled to Mitzpe Hila to meet with the Schalit family, and he
has been in touch with them ever since.
Smoking a cigarette, Azzam said
that what struck him the most after Israel reached a deal with Egypt to release
him, was the plunge from confinement to freedom.
“Suddenly no one is
giving you orders, you can do what you want,” he said.
said, Gilad is also now free after he was held in a small, confined
He advised Schalit’s family to go slow and not to delve into his
experiences at the hands of Hamas.
“Don’t ask him what happened, because
it will traumatize him to think of those years,” he said.
simple things. Ask him what he wants to eat,” Azzam said. “And hug him.”