Gilad Shalit release 'wonderful' for Jewish world

By Jennifer Lipman, October 18, 2011
Gilad Shalit speaks to his family for the first time in five years

Gilad Shalit speaks to his family for the first time in five years

Israel and the international community have been sharing their reactions to the release of Gilad Shalit after more than five years as a prisoner of Hamas.

Sergeant Shalit has been taken across the border to Israel and is undergoing a medical check-up. He will soon be reunited with his family, who have dedicated the last five years to securing his freedom.

Interviewed by Egyptian television, the soldier, who appeared pale and thin, spoke to the world for the first time since he was kidnapped in June 2006. He said his Hamas captors had informed him of his impending release last week and added: "I missed my family, seeing people, and talking."

The official spokeswoman of the Israeli Defence Forces wrote on T witter that announcing the soldier's return "was one of the most exciting things I have done in my whole career".

His return was also welcomed by diaspora Jewish organisations. JNF UK's executive director, David Goodman, said: "We share the immense relief and delight of the Shalit family and the people of Israel over the homecoming of Gilad Shalit. We now pray for the return of the remaining Israeli soldiers still missing in action."

Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress, said the soldier's return was "wonderful news for his family and the entire Jewish people.

"Despite the enormously painful price that only Israel would consider paying, Jewish communities across the globe stand side by side with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Cabinet's decision," said Mr Lauder. "We salute Noam and Aviva Shalit for their courage. Their relentless struggle has finally paid off."

The Zionist Federation expressed hope that the release would be "the start of a period of renewed hope that will bring a peaceful solution to the Israeli Palestinian conflict".

Lee Scott MP, who last week asked Prime Minister David Cameron to welcome Sergeant Shalit's release, said: "The freeing of this young man is a small step in the right direction and I hope that it will play a part in advancing the peace process in the region."

He added: "If progress is to be made, Hamas must renounce violence and recognise the state of Israel."

The Board of Deputies described the release as "momentous".

"It will go down in the annals of Israeli and Jewish history as a day of contrasting emotions," they said in a statement. "A day when Jews around the world are immensely proud of Israel for the courageous yet painful decisions she has made.

"On behalf of the British Jewish community, we welcome home Gilad, extend warmest wishes to the Shalit family and wish him a speedy return to a full and normal daily life."

The chief rabbi said the soldier's safe return was "a sight Jews around the world have been praying and campaigning for since his capture".

Lord Sacks added: "Our prayers have been answered.

"Every life is precious, and that is why, on this day, we also remember the victims of terror who have been killed at the hands of many of those released today, as well as those Israeli soldiers who remain missing in action. We continue to pray for their safe and speedy return."

"Redeeming the captive is one of the most important Mitzvot (duties) for Jews, for which we are willing to take extra-ordinary steps. Gilad Shalit's illegal detention has been a potent symbol of the paralysis of the Middle East peace process," said the chief executive of the movement for Reform Judaism.

Ben Rich said: "His release - and the willingness to negotiate and compromise which it demonstrates - should mark the beginning, not the end, of a new peace process based around justice for all, a two state solution and the rule of law."

Last updated: 12:53pm, October 18 2011