Israel is buzzing with overwhelming excitement at the imminent return of Gilad shalit. There are joyous dances in the streets with children all over the country waving flags bearing Gilad's gentle face. After over five years in captivity, the young man with the now famous shy smile, is to be freed.
His family's admirably relentless, five year long campaign bore fruit. Besides traveling to the UN and meeting world leaders, the dedicated family has for over the past year, resided in a tent they set up outside prime minister Netanyahu's residence as a poignant reminder of their plight. For five years Free Gilad became the nation's email signature and Gilad's bright eyes greeted you on countless Facebook pages.
It is a somewhat cruel twist of fate that Gilad's release should fall on the 25th anniversary of Ron Arad's capture. Like Gilad, the intelligent IAF navigator became a national symbol following his abduction in 1986. Arad was kidnapped by Amal in Lebanon and transferred from one terrorist group to another until his tracks were lost. Three letters from him were received in 1987, but the Israeli government's negotiations for his release have failed.
His wife Tami who for years, like the Shalits, knocked on every door and screamed from every hill top in desperation, has addressed her presumed dead husband at his memorial ceremony today. "During the first year' she said, 'I could feel your presence." "In the second year' she continued, 'I could still hear your voice echoing, and in the third year I could imagine you coming up the street, barefoot, in overalls, with a cigarette in your hand and your boots hanging over your shoulder...The hopes that you will return and open the door vanished years ago and the expectations shrank to a modest hope: just to know what happened to you.'
At this day of hard to contain happiness for Shalit and his family, I think of Arad's years of darkness at the hands of his captors and the torment suffered by his family. I think of his mother who never saw him before she passed away and his beautiful, grown daughter who keeps a photo of the father she never knew by her bedside.
I am thankful that Ron's memory lay heavy on the Israeli prime minister's mind. As Netanyahu himself has told reporters this week, he did not want Gilad Shalit to turn into another Ron Arad. I am thankful that the bitterly painful, sorry saga of Ron's disappearance has actually helped bring about a happier ending for the Shalits. You are forever remembered Ron.
A ten million dollar reward is on offer for anyone with new information about Ron Arad https://www.10million.org/en/