Israel's lost son comes home

 

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The Independent Online

It was not long after 10am yesterday that Dor Peled, 25, knew for certain that his good friend since the age of seven was coming home at last.

He strode towards the screen in time to watch, transfixed, as Israeli television showed a continuous loop of the very first video pictures of Gilad Shalit on Egyptian soil, still dressed in the baseball cap and grey open-necked shirt he had left Gaza in.

It would be another six-and-a-half hours before the two Israeli airforce helicopters – one carrying his friend and his parents Noam and Aviva – hummed into view above this hilltop western Galilee village. And another 30 minutes before the long convoy with its police motorcycle escort moved up the road.

Through the darkened windows of an SUV you could just glimpse the pale young Sergeant First Class sitting between his parents, before the convoy turned through the cheering crowd and up to the home he had left for the last time as a 19-year-old conscript more than five years ago.

The momentous day for Israel and its Occupied Territories has, in the short term, significantly strengthened both the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Hamas, the hitherto shunned Islamic Palestinian faction that had long held Sgt Shalit.

Mr Peled regarded the return – and the exchange with more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners which made it possible – as a vindication. "I was always sure that he would be OK and that he would come back," he said.

Shortly after his release, Sgt Shalit appeared on Egyptian television. "I had thoughts about this hope [of being freed]," he said, speaking in Hebrew. "I felt it could take time, but I felt it could also happen. I had had a feeling all month long." And he told his interviewer that he was glad Palestinian captives were also being freed.

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