Gantz meets with Schalits as they await their son’s return

Eldad Regev’s father says he can understand what the Schalit family is feeling; Aviva Schalit: "This is joy mingled with many fears."

Gantz official looking serious 311 (photo credit: IDF spokesperson unit)
Gantz official looking serious 311
(photo credit: IDF spokesperson unit)
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.
Gantz entered and exited their house without speaking with the media.
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It’s 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 Hila.
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 their neighbors.
“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 differently.
“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 time.
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 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.
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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.
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.
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.