Montrealers celebrate release of Israeli soldier
Published Wednesday, October 19, 2011 8:48AM EDT
MONTREAL - Montreal's Jewish community is celebrating the release of an Israeli soldier who has been held by Palestinian militants for five years.
Gilad Schalit was freed Tuesday by Hamas in exchange for the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.
To mark the occasion several hundred people gathered at the Beth Israel Beth Aaron congregation Tuesday evening in Montreal.
Paula Bultz was one of those watching every moment of what was happening half a world away.
"It's a terrible thing, but I hope it's going to be be a message for the world, that every human being is precious," said Bultz.
But even though the events took place in Israel and the Gaza strip, people in Montreal have strong ties to the Middle East.
Schalit's ordeal hit close to home for Anna Klein-Learner, whose son is serving in the Israeli military.
"I don't know what I would have done had I been in the Schalit family's situation," she said.
Joseph Alfie met Schalit's father a year and a half ago.
Alfie said Schalit's family was happy to hear they had international support.
"He approached us himself--asked us where we were from. We said from Canada, we heard his story. He was very appreciative of the fact that he had support across the border, across the world," said Alfie.
As Schalit was welcomed home tens of thousands of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were also celebrating the release of their prisoners.
Many are hoping Israel will make similar deals in the future, since more than 6,000 Palestinians remain in Israeli prisons.
Others are worried the prisoner exchange will launch a new round of attacks against Israel, since dozens of the freed prisoners were serving life sentences for deadly attacks against Israeli citizens.
However Schalit himself says he hopes his freedom will help push for peace between the two groups.