I've spent most of the day watching and listening to the news as Gilad came home. It was an interesting day, accompanied most of the way by fellow Twitter friends, people in the store, my family. We watched as there was a glimpse of Gilad finally leaving Palestinian hands for Egyptian ones.
He looked so weak. He walked so stiffly. They pulled at him and I wanted to scream and tell them to get their hands off of him. His body language was clear - he looked bullied, almost indifferent. It was as if he had gone somewhere else and only his body was there, doing what the Palestinians were telling him to do. Move this way; walk this way. Stand here.
More time as we wait...and then an interview with an Egyptian woman. I won't waste the word "journalism" on her. The interview was a shock to Israel, as it was unplanned on a day when everything was supposed to be scheduled carefully.
Worse, the interview was asinine and rude. Anyone could see that Gilad was not well. His breathing was labored, his eyes showed how uncomfortable and even frightened he was. He was looking for a trap; something wrong that he might say that would stop the deal from going through. He knew he was close and he feared that now it would end.
And yet this woman kept nailing her questions, silly ones they probably teach in Journalism 101 for third graders. And then she moved it up to obnoxious. Will you work to release the other Palestinian prisoners she asked him, now that you know what captivity is like. The Israeli reporters who were broadcasting the interview were outraged, people on Twitter were furious.
What wasn't shown was the careful angle of the camera that didn't show the full picture of what was behind Gilad during that interview. Here is that picture.
Look at the man, look at the hood.
Look at the Hamas band across his forehead. Look at his hand on Gilad's shoulder. An Egyptian journalist...a Hamas photographer? Not quite.
The interview finally ended and Gilad was handed into Israeli hands. He walked with the Israeli escorts so differently that I began to see that Gilad was coming home, not just in body, but in spirit too. They weren't leading him, but helping him. His shoulders and upper body were different now - more relaxed. There was no longer a Hamas thug behind him. He already knew it was true, he was coming home.
He still looked weak and unbearably thin as he walked out of a building - for the first time in an Israeli uniform. More of a delay, more reports that turned out not to be true. BBC decided if it couldn't report the news, it would make it up and announced that Gilad had arrived in Tel Nof and had already spoken with his father. News to Noam, who immediately announced he had not yet spoken to his son and reporter at the Rafiach Crossing confirmed the IAF helicopter had not even arrived to take Gilad, never mind made the trip and returned.
But finally, the helicopter came and Gilad was flown to his family. There, a most amazing welcome party met him. First, Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu was there. Gilad saluted him Benny Gantz saluted, held out his hand and like Bibi, pulled Gilad into a hug. He's home, I thought to myself. He's really home.
(Listen as the pilot announces - we are 7 minutes away from bringing Gilad home; and the response - we are all touched to have him home.)
Hours later, Gilad was flown home to Mitzpe Hila. Thousands were there to greet him. The IDF released a short clip of Gilad in the helicopter and then the news showed Gilad and his family entering one of three vans which slowly drove a few hundred meters into Gilad's hometown.
People started cheering wildly, waving flags, singing, dancing. Gilad was home. Through the window of one of the vans, a hazy picture of Gilad smiling could be seen. Hours later, an army doctor was interviewed. He was the first to check Gilad before he was transferred out of Egypt and back home. He told Gilad that he was pleased with his condition, pleased with how he was mentally - a huge concern for many who expected Gilad to come back broken, "I knew I'd surprise you," Gilad reportedly answered back.
He did. For five years, we have seen only the image of Gilad, the captive, or glimpses of Gilad growing up. Today, for the first time, we saw Gilad as a man. He's 25 years old. His family has lost 5 years of his life but in one day, with one smile, Gilad promises that there is so much ahead of him.
Gilad isn't used to having a lot of people around - they kept him alone for so much of the time. He is badly deficient in Vitamin D - a sign that he was kept in darkness, as we all thought. He has other injuries and has been badly neglected over these past few years. But what Gilad managed to make clear to all of us is that what he needs most is food and love - both of which he will get in abundance, now that he is home.
And so now I can admit, I never believed Hamas would allow us this day. Today, Gilad Shalit came home and tonight, tonight he sleeps in his own house. Tomorrow and in the weeks and months to come, we may all pay a huge price for this moment. For now, even through the pain this horrible trade caused so many here in Israel, we all have to bless this day and this boy who is now a man.
May Gilad ben Aviva go from strength to strength, forever walking in the light and the love of his people. Thank you, God. Thank you for bringing Gilad home.