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October 12, 2011 4:35 pm

Hope Rises for Return of Gilad Shalit

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Aviva and Noam Shalit. Photo: Itzik Edri.

As a mother, simply as a human being, one’s heart could not help but be broken watching the parents of Gilad Shalit stand, stalwart, in the midst of a sea of color and excitement. Waiting for the 2009 Salute to Israel Parade to begin, the parents of the kidnapped soldier were surrounded by American and Israeli dignitaries, politicians and community leaders. Mayor Michael Bloomberg showed his support as he donned a large “button” given to him by the captive sergeant’s father, Noam, promoting the release of his son. Then, three long years had passed since a cross border kidnapping had snatched Gilad Shalit from his post, his country and his life, throwing him into deep captivity, allowing him no contact with anyone except his captors.

Shalit was taken from Israeli territory June 25, 2006.  Securing his return has been the focus of worldwide efforts. A citizen of both France and Israel, European Union diplomats became actively engaged in the efforts to secure his release. To bring greater domestic pressure, his parents, Aviva and Noam, lived in a tent across the street from the home of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for more than a year. Israelis have been torn between the deep felt, soul based, demand to bring home this young IDF soldier, this son of all, and the concern about the price demanded by Hamas for his release. (Reports say more than 1000, including almost 300 with Israeli “blood on their hands” will be traded.

In New York, Speaker of the City Council Christine Quinn proclaimed Gilad Shalit Day in the City of New York, September 07, 2011. Speaking on behalf of its membership, the Conference of President of Major Jewish Organizations President Richard Stone and Executive Director Malcolm Hoenlein said “We are elated with the prospect of the release of Gilad Shalit… kidnapped more than five years ago… We pray that this one precious life is now indeed saved.”

Richard Stone noted the “very heavy price” the government of Israel would pay for his release, saying “Israel has shown, as it always has, the extent of its humanity, its dedication to its citizens and its determination to do everything possible to secure the safe return of all of its soldiers.”

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Calling the PM Netanyahu’s decision “courageous,” he cautiously wished that “Gilad will be home with his family for the coming holiday and that Hamas will not seek either to raise the price or otherwise upset this arrangement.” The Conference did not step back from its position that Hamas must be sanctioned and “remains a murderous terrorist group that still threatens to destroy Israel.”

“We know that many in the international community have played a role and we are grateful to governments, organizations and individuals for their humanitarian efforts and dedication to the release of Gilad Shalit.” “We look forward to hosting the Shalit family once again, in the near future, and to celebrate with them their reunification with their son,” said Stone and Hoenlein.

Speaker Quinn said “worldwide efforts appear to have achieved their goal: the return of Gilad Shalit to his family.”  She recalled the optimism and hope of Noam Shalit, saying “Today, I am filled with happiness and relief as we learn that Gilad will soon be released and returned home to his family. I celebrate with his parents, family, friends, supporters around the world, and the Israeli people as they welcome home a hero.”

From Washington, Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) added his voice, with “cautious optimism,” saying that the release of Shalit “comes after five years of darkness, during which Gilad has been kept in illegal captivity,” calling the release “a tremendous comfort to the many of us around the world who have held out hope and awaited his release.”

The deal that will bring Shalit home includes a prisoner release approved Tuesday night by a vote of 26 – 3 vote of Netanyahu’s cabinet. 479 Palestinian prisoners are expected to be released next week, and 550 more will follow in two months. Some will return to West Bank or Gaza homes, but about fifty percent will not be allowed to do so. Some will be deported or sent to Gaza.

The Israeli leader, saying it was “the best deal we could have at this time,” acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining the balance between bringing back an abducted soldier and maintaining the security of the citizens of Israel. He called the arrangement “the right balance”…”difficult, but right, decisions” taken at a unique “window of opportunity.”

Noam Shalit said “We bless the government for its courageous decision, despite the long stretch of time that has passed.”

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