At Shalit family tent, supporters hope and pray

JERUSALEM, Michael Blum- For over five years, supporters have prayed for the freedom of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and on Tuesday it felt like their prayers were finally being answered as a deal for his release was inked.
Shortly after news of the deal broke, which will see Shalit freed in return for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, dozens of activists flocked to the protest tent of his parents Noam and Aviva, outside the Jerusalem home of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

At Shalit family tent, supporters hope and pray
They gathered to show their support for the family, who have become a national symbol, victims of the worst nightmare of every Israeli family that sends a son or daughter to join the military.
Chanting slogans and cheering, they waved Israeli flags and pictures of the young Israeli-French soldier, daring to believe that he would soon be free.
"This time I think it's good, he's going to be freed," said 18-year-old Shani Zadunayski, who said she had come to show her "solidarity with the family."
Wearing a T-shirt printed with the face of the young corporal, she admitted she "had chills when I heard on the television that Gilad was going to be freed."
At her side stood Danielle Levy, also 18, who said she had come to the tent "dozens of times" to support the Shalits.
"It's time for him to be back with his family," said Eitan Levy, pointing to a sign tallying the 1,934 days since the young soldier was captured.
As supporters offered their congratulations, Noam and Aviva Shalit smiled but tried to reserve judgment, waiting for official confirmation that their son was on his way home before allowing themselves to express their joy.
"I'll celebrate when I have reason to be happy," Noam Shalit told AFP.
In the street, knots of people gathered to share whatever snippets of information they could get their hands on about the long-awaited deal.
Passing cars honked their horns in support of the family, which put up the protest tent last year in a bid to pressure Netanyahu to secure Shalit's release.
The joyous atmosphere was in sharp contrast to the flurry of appeals from supporters of Israel's far-right, who urged ministers "to vote against the release of terrorists to prevent more massacres of innocents in the future."
The prisoner swap deal, which was reached last Thursday and signed on Tuesday, is expected to see the release of 1,027 Palestinians in exchange for Shalit.
It comes after years of failed attempts to agree a prisoner exchange, despite the efforts of Egyptian and German mediators.
Shalit was captured in a deadly cross-border raid on June 25, 2006 by militants from three Gaza-based groups -- Hamas, the Popular Resistance Committees and a Salafi group called the Army of Islam.

Wednesday, October 12th 2011
Michael Blum

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