The home town of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier due to be exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners tomorrow, is ready and waiting.
The banners are flying in Mitzpe Hila and the excitement is palpable.
“I am delighted to say that tomorrow I hope Gilad will walk through the door of his home,” said one neighbour. “It’s a thrilling thought.”
Sergeant Shalit was seized by Palestinian militants in 2006 and taken to Gaza. He is due to exchanged for a first tranche of 477 Palestinian prisoners tomorrow. A further 550 Palestinians will then be released in two months.
As Israeli President Shimon Peres made clear, negotiations for his return have been difficult.
“We thank the Israeli government that, despite the uncertainty, took a collective responsibility,” he said. “Friends and colleagues, let us all embrace those who lost loved ones in the war of terror, who carry a grief they cannot be freed from and still love their nation with dignity and nobility.”
But many of those Peres referred to oppose the prisoner exchange even if the vast majority of Israelis support it.
Bench Benzyhamn’s sister was killed in a cafe bombing in 2002. At least one of the Palestinians being released was convicted of her murder.
“This treaty is tainted with the blood of victims of terrorist attacks,” he said. “Israelis will pay the price with blood once again.”