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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Songs and cheers could be heard Tuesday night from outside of UF Hillel on University Avenue.

About 30 people gathered to celebrate the release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, smiling and crying just like Israelis in Mitzpe Hila in the northern Galilee in Israel.

Shalit was captured five years ago by Hamas, a U.S. State Department-listed terrorist organization, while patrolling the border of Gaza.

His tank was ambushed, and two of his comrades were killed. He was incarcerated, malnourished and had no contact with the outside world aside from the few interviews he was forced to videotape in Arabic.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced last week that there would be a swap: More than 1,000 Palestinian Hamas prisoners, most of whom had been convicted on trials of terrorist plots, would be traded for one Israeli soldier.

On Tuesday, Shalit was flown to a Tel Nof air base.

Josh Kahn, Jewish Agency Israel programming director at UF, said the return was an opportunity for the community to join and rejoice in Shalit's freedom.

"In Israel, there is this social contract between mothers and the army," Kahn said. "The deal is, we send our kids to you, and you have to bring them back."

Kahn was a sergeant from 2007 to 2009 in Infantry Nahal, 50th Airborne Battalion.

Frederick Rosenbluth, a Jewish studies and family, youth and community sciences junior, said Shalit is a hero.

"If I had one-eighth of his strength, I'd be a proud man."

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