Choppers Shalit Hila AP 18.10.11
Residents wave as two IDF helicopters, one transporting Gilad Shalit, approach his hometown of Mitzpe Hila, October 18, 2011. Photo by AP
Text size

Yesterday's Shalit festival more or less destroyed the anonymity of the good people of Mitzpeh Hila, as mobile broadcast units crammed practically bumper-to-bumper along the town's streets.

In addition to the journalists, who at one point during the tense wait began interviewing each other (I evaded three such requests), the normally quiet community was filled with policemen, soldiers, Shin Bet security service officers and military policemen. I can't imagine why they needed so many soldiers there.

Several photographers climbed up on ladders to get as close to the Shalit home as they were allowed, trying to snap a few shots of the now-famous home.

Our TV people are always looking for an enemy to make them feel better. This time it was Egyptian television for harassing poor Gilad Shalit and not properly appreciating the enormity of the moment.

Nor did the mass Israeli hug upon Shalit's return go over particularly well. The guy comes back and all he wants to do is be with his family, and suddenly he's got Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looking over his shoulder. Netanyahu, for whom media restraint is not a strong point, conducted himself like the hiding duck in those English readers: suddenly sticking himself into the pictures and poking into the family's intimate moments.

The beauty of this mass deployment on behalf of Shalit was the affection of the many for one simple young man, the unbridled love for your average Joe. Gilad Shalit is no better than the man who sat in front of you in the shared taxi, the cashier at the cafe who gave you the wrong change, or the medical resident who can't make ends meet and is thinking of immigrating to Australia.

In short, it could have been anyone in Gilad Shalit's uniform. What is great about Gilad is his ordinariness.

"I didn't believe that he really existed," said a young journalist from Army Radio, as the first pictures of Shalit's release were broadcast. "I was sure Gilad was a cardboard figure."

Don't laugh. It's clear that even the goodhearted activists who filled the streets with posters of Shalit weren't thinking too much about Gilad the person, but about "Gilad" the symbol.

After all, who would want to see his own picture all over the place like that? We're talking about a youth, not some North Korean despot.

When the helicopter carrying him landed, they gave out T-shirts with Gilad Shalit's picture on it at the local clubhouse, even though we don't have to wear Gilad Shalit T-shirts anymore, nor do we have to wear Gilad Shalit bracelets.

Then, after the helicopter landed and the car carrying Shalit entered the town, everyone was waiting there, jostling for a spot where they could see him, as if he were Justin Bieber. I took a step back, since in any case everyone was blocking me and it was impossible to see anything.

Mitzpeh Hila residents may still be taking pictures of the journalists and other parts of the media circus, which will undoubtedly continue for another few days. But in, say, two weeks, we can assume the journalists will all disappear.

I hope Gilad Shalit eventually drops off the media radar and becomes no more than a crossword puzzle item.