A Defining Moment for Gilad Shalit's Family, Friends and Supporters

Late Tuesday night, hundreds of people surrounded the Shalit family tent, many of them weeping and hugging each other.

Aviva Shalit smiled. A small, reserved, somewhat skeptical smile, but it left no doubt. That was a smile, and it was powerful enough to rattle all those present at the tent in the Rehavia neighborhood, and send ripples, ever widening, to Mitzpeh Hila and to every single TV viewer, in Israel and throughout the world - to each and every person who felt that he was on Gilad Shalit's side.

That smile was the photo of the day, that might be, the photo of an era. It was a defining Israeli historical moment, of the sort that happens no more than once every decade, and like similar moments, it's true significance will take some time to be fully revealed.

shalit - AFP - October 12 2011

A sign reading 1,934, the number of days that Gilad is in captivity, is hanging on the tent, and within it, Aviva Shalit sits next to an empty chair. "Reserved for Gilad Shalit," reads the sign on the chair, but until Gilad takes his place on that simple plastic chair, it hosts several handkerchiefs and cellular phones.

The cellular phones and the handkerchiefs were the main means of communication last night in the tent area, where more and more people assembled.

Every so often Aviva Shalit picked up her cell phone, or someone else's. She quietly read the SMS's, and the headlines of websites. Every so often she answered a call. One couldn't really tell what was going through her mind, her expression was often frozen. Smiles? Only heavy and cautious.

Every so often she breathes deeply. When a reporter tells her that Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that it's a done deal, she asks, businesslike: "To whom did he say that? To the press?"

Many Israelis felt the urgent need to be here last night, to come to the very place where history was unfolding. In this case it was a protest tent, erected in July 2010 opposite the prime minister's residence. One cannot help but remember that on the night Yitzhak Rabin was murdered, many Jerusalemites came to this very spot, to light memorial candles.

Last night hundreds of people surrounded the tent, many of them weeping and hugging each other. "This is the place to be," said Yael Dror, 57, who came as soon as she heard the news. "For five years now, Gilad is in my heart and thoughts."

Haim Shoval, 25, from Rishon Letzion, echoed a sentiment shared by many: "I feel that my brother is being released," he sighed.