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There’s No Place Like Home

Binyamin Rose

It was a deal that some say never should have been made and it may well be the last of its kind, but the prisoner swap that sprung Gilad Shalit from captivity to freedom after more than five years in a Hamas dungeon in Gaza uplifted and unnerved a nation that is no stranger to the trauma of trying to reconcile opposing and often highly emotional views. What cannot be forgotten is that the hardest of adjustment of all belongs to Gilad Shalit himself.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The whirring of the helicopter’s engine preceded its appearance in the darkening, blue-gray late afternoon sky, high above Mitzpe Hila, which itself sits perched 1600 feet above sea level four miles south of the Lebanese border.

Moments later, the helicopter landed in a clearing amidst a lush green forest, bearing its precious cargo. A police escort was waiting on the ground on motorcycles and in reinforced vehicles, as supporters waving Israeli flags waited with heightened anticipation along Mitzpe Hila’s main road.

Gilad Shalit and family jumped off the helicopter into a waiting GMC Savana for the five-minute ride back to the home he hadn’t seen for the 1942 days following his kidnapping at the hands of Hamas terrorists in Gaza who slipped through a tunnel into Israeli territory, snatching Shalit. While Mitzpe Hila had been declared a closed military zone a day earlier, there were still as many as a thousand people on hand to cheer him on, including residents and many Succos guests.  Mitzpe Hila is a popular vacation spot for Israelis familiar with its pastoral quiet, its wide array of guest homes and bed and breakfasts. Many volunteers who had manned the protest tent that Gilad’s parents had set up near the prime minister’s home in Jerusalem to press their case for his return were also invited to the homecoming as a reward for their efforts. 

When the van pulled up at the Shalit house, Gilad was third person out, after his parents. He looked furtively to his left at the crowd and seemed to wave, or even salute, briefly placing his left hand over his head. Crossing in front of the Savana he ducked under a row of trees and disappeared from the eye of the cameras, but not before appearing to break into a sprint to rush inside.

Many of the protest tent volunteers were young, religious Jews who broke into the popular song Avinu Shebashamayim – with the words that we have no one else to rely on but our Father in Heaven. For religious people the Hand of G-d was apparent and even for the nonobservant Israeli, the message of the song was at least subliminal. Gilad arrived at his home exactly at sunset, as Hoshana Raba began. The singing and dancing continued for as long as it took for sky to turn to a colorful splash of purple and orange. Finally, the crowd was cleared from in front of the home to give the Shalit family some solitude. About an hour later, Gilad’s father, Noam, emerged, giving a brief news conference, in which he said that it was a long and trying day, but that Gilad was doing as well as could be expected, although he had some shrapnel wounds that hadn’t been properly treated and was clearly deprived of sunshine and food.

It was day of hugs and embraces for the Shalit family, and indeed his return was a pitka tova for them. For the families who lost loved ones in previous terror attacks only to see the perpetrators of those atrocities released in the prisoner swap that brought Gilad Shalit home, and for other worried Israelis, the hope and prayer is that the Shalits’ embraces of tears and joy won’t be a cause for other embraces and tears of mourning.


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