Sunday, October 23, 2011

IDF Captive Soldier Gilad Schalit Finally Comes Home

After being held captive in Gaza for 1,945 days by Palestinian terrorists, IDF soldier Gilad Schalit finally crossed over into Egypt and into IDF custody and protection. The deal in which Israel made with Hamas, who govern the Gaza Strip, was the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, which included 27 women and scores of "high profile" terrorists who were involved in and responsible for serious terror attacks against Israelis, including the Dolphinarium attack in the summer of 2002, where 16 young people were killed and scores injured; the Park Hotel bombing, with 33 Israelis killed and 160 injured; and numerous other attacks, such as the Sabarro restaurant in Jerusalem (15 killed, 130 wounded) and Maxim restaurant in Haifa where 21 were killed, including 3 young children and 3 Arab restaurant employees.

The agreement called for 477 prisoners to be released immediately to locations in both the West Bank and Gaza, except for 40 high level terrorists who were deported to countries outside of Israel, including Turkey. Another 550 prisoners will be released later.

Upon arriving in Egypt around 9 a.m., and after being greeted by Egyptian military officials, Schalit was met by IDF military officials, who greeted him warmly and gave him an IDF uniform to wear for his entry into Israel. Schalit is still officially in the IDF and was given the rank of Sergeant during his long incarceration. He is expected to receive a number of benefits from both the IDF and the Israeli government, including back pay and possibly a full educational scholarship. Despite looking pale and thin, preliminary medical checkups indicate that Gilad is in reasonably good condition for being in such an ordeal for more than 5 and a quarter years. Reports say he was wearing a Hamas "military uniform" when brought over to Egypt. He was reported as "speaking fluent Arabic" by Egyptian TV broadcasters who filmed the event when Gilad first crossed over to Egypt from Gaza. Schalit's initial remarks as to his treatment by Hamas were: "Hamas treated me well". During an initial interview, Schalit seemed tired and a bit confused and told an Egyptian reporter that he had been kept in isolation. "I didn't see people for a long time, but I began to feel that things might be improving for me a month ago. I only got news about my impending release about a week ago, but I was afraid that things might go wrong" he said.

"Gilad has finally returned home" said the IDF spokesman upon Gilad arriving on Israeli soil.

The deal to release Schalit, involving so many arch terrorists with "blood on their hands" was vigorously protested by members of terror victims families who circulated petitions to the Israel Supreme Court to prevent the deal from being carried out. The Supreme Court later decided not to interfere with the deal that was also voted against by several right winged members of the Israeli cabinet, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu warmly greeted the young soldier as he arrived at the Tel Nof air force base in southern Israel. He then was given a long awaited reunion with his parents before returning with them to a reunion with the residents of his hometown, Mitzpeh Hila, in the northern Galilee. The end to this saga may remind some of a song that was recorded a while back by the American ballad singer John Denver:

"The prodigal son he'd been away awhile
He was makin' his way back home now
After many a ragged mile
When he finally crossed the river
And his father saw him near
There was a joyful sound for all the world to hear"
Lyrics from song Gospel Changes by John Denver

Gilad Schalit will need to undergo a lot of physical and emotional healing after his long ordeal. He has become a symbol of hope and is "every Israeli mother's son". His return to Israel, and to freedom, gives all young Israelis the hope that they will not be forgotten by their government and by the people of Israel, should a similar ordeal happen to them.

No comments: