Shalit Family Counts Down the Hours Until Gilad's Homecoming

Television crews jostle for space as curious onlookers come by to snap a picture of the house.

With the preparations for Gilad Shalit's return to the family home at Mitzpeh Hila nearly completed, attention has now turned to other logistical arrangements in the Galilee community for his homecoming, including accommodating the needs of a large media contingent.

Makeshift television studios have been built, and stages erected at the end of the path leading to the Shalit home. On Sunday, television crews jostled for space as curious onlookers came by to snap a picture of the house.

Aviva Shalit - Abdullah Shama - 17102011
Abdullah Shama

Police officers have already been posted around the home in anticipation of Shalit's expected return tomorrow. Access to the house will be restricted to immediate family members. Politicians, journalists and activists from the campaign to free Gilad Shalit will be barred.

Gilad is to be reunited with his parents, Noam and Aviva Shalit, at the Tel Nof air force base, after which the three of them will be taken by helicopter back to Mitzpeh Hila, where the rest of the family will be waiting.

On Sunday, a Blackhawk helicopter circled over the home, landed in a clearing just a few meters from the house and took off again, in an apparent rehearsal and check of the improvised helipad.

Throughout the day Sunday Shalit's family remained inside, with occasional forays outside for fresh air or to tend to a chore. In the evening the European Union's ambassador in Israel, Andrew Standley, arrived with a message from the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton. Standley said he came to congratulate the family on their son's anticipated release and that the EU had been supportive of the family during Shalit's five and a half years in captivity. Gilad Shalit holds dual French-Israeli citizenship.

The campaign to free Gilad Shalit, meanwhile, is preparing for the aftermath of Shalit's return. Organization chairman Shimshon Liebman noted that some activists had quit their jobs in order to work toward Shalit's release. Some volunteers reported daily to the protest tent outside the Prime Minister's Residence in Jerusalem, while others stood vigil at highway intersections.

They will not get to see Shalit in the initial period following his return home, however, in the interest of protecting his privacy and easing his transition to a normal life. "It is not easy," Liebman said, "to tell all [the activists] that the battle is over."