1,941 days since he was kidnapped by Gaza terrorists in a cross-border raid, IDF soldier Gilad Shalit was finally returned to Israel on Tuesday and reunited with his family. Gilad’s release was secured in deal that eventually releases 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including hundreds of terrorists serving life sentences. The IDF Spokesperson’s blog said an initial medical examination found Gilad to be in “good and stable health.” Gilad was welcomed back to Israel in a joyous state ceremony that included his family, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.
Shalit, who reached the rank of Sergeant First Class while in captivity, was able to speak with his parents by phone after returning to Israel, according to the IDF spokesperson. It is believed to be his first phone call with his parents since he was kidnapped in June 2006. He was later reunited with them at the ceremony held in the Tel Nof Airbase and returned home in Mitzpe Hila on Tuesday afternoon.
Shalit had been held by Gaza terrorists for more than five years with no Red Cross access and rare contact with his family via letters. A video proving he was still alive was also provided by Hamas roughly two years ago in exchange for Israel releasing some smaller-scale terrorists.
Tuesday’s exchange saw hundreds of Palestinian prisoners go free in the initial stage of the swap, some of whom were to be deported abroad as part of their release agreement. Those freed also were to commit not to return to terrorism.
Netanyahu, in comments following Gilad’s release and distributed by his office, said, “Any released terrorist who returns to terrorism—his blood is upon his head.”
Finally back in Israel on Tuesday, Gilad had a “secondary and thorough medical examination” and was then released to go home. The Israeli newspaper Haaretz said he was welcomed by hundreds of supporters. The joyous crowd waved flags and threw flowers at the van carrying him.
Excitement was evident in Gaza as well as hundreds of prisoners were freed by Israel, including a number of terrorists who had been sentenced to prison for their roles in murdering Israelis. According to the Hamas military wing’s website, a national holiday was declared in Gaza.
In addition to the exuberance, Hamas members also issued some implied and some direct threats towards Israel. The Hamas military wing website quoted Hamas deputy leader in exile Moussa Abu Marzouk as saying, “The rest of the prisoners must be released because if they are not released in a normal way they will be released in other ways.”
In addition, Yehya Al-Sinwar, a freed prisoner described by the website as a top Hamas security strategist, said they should kidnap additional Israeli soldiers for more prisoner exchanges.
In swapping one soldier for hundreds of terrorists, including some involved in murdering multiple Israelis in bomb attacks, Netanyahu described a key difference between Israel and their enemies.
“Here, we do not celebrate the release of murderers,” said Netanyahu. “Here, we do not applaud those who took life. On the contrary, we believe in the sanctity of life. We sanctify life.”
Israeli President Shimon Peres also took time to emphasize that despite signing the pardons of terrorists in exchange for Gilad, he does not dismiss the murderous crimes committed by those freed.
In comments released by his office, Peres said, “I would like to note that my decision in this matter to exercise my authority in no way pardons or forgives these murderers and criminals. I do not forgive and forget. The sense of loss will never be erased. The heroism of the victims will not be forgotten.”
Netanyahu also addressed the victim’s families as murderers are released, calling their pain “too heavy to bear.” However, he noted that “in the current diplomatic circumstances, this was the best agreement we could achieve, and there was no guarantee that the conditions which enabled it to be achieved would hold in the future. It could be that Gilad would disappear.”
Instead, Tuesday saw the disappearance of a national burden for Israel as one of her sons was brought home at long last. Quoting from the Biblical prophet Jeremiah, Netanyahu said, “Today, I can say, on behalf of all Israelis, in the spirit of the eternal values of the Jewish People: ‘Your children shall return to their own border.’”
(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, October 18, 2011)