Local Israelis react to Israel-Palestinian prisoner exchange

Wednesday, October 19, 2011 | 3:53 p.m. CDT; updated 4:14 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, October 19, 2011

COLUMBIA — Yaniv Shnaider wanted to run outside on Tuesday with the biggest Israeli flag he could find.

The 24-year-old information technology student celebrated the release of Sgt. First Class Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier, held for five years by the militant Palestinian group Hamas. 

"I had tears in my eyes when I watched the video on the Internet," Shnaider said. "I called my parents, and my mother told me she couldn't sleep all night because she was checking the news."

It was an important day for the Israeli people, he said.

For the five years Shalit was in captivity, Shnaider said he felt like he had a stone in his stomach. When he celebrated holidays with his family, he said he remembers sparing a kind thought for Shalit, who was being held by Hamas at an unknown location.

For Schnaider, Shalit's story brings up memories of his own time in the Israeli army.

"I did my military service and one of my friends was kidnapped and killed," Shnaider said. "That could have happened to anyone."

It was important to Israelis that Shalit return to the country, Shnaider said. "My country is a big family, and every single Israeli belongs to that family."

Shalit's return was part of an exchange that included freedom for 477 Palestinians with a total of 1,027 Palestinians set to be released by Israel within two months.

Etti Naveh-Benjamin, an American-Israeli teaching in MU's psychology department, said after Tuesday's initial exchange that she was proud to be Israeli.

"As an Israeli, as a Jew, as a mother, I feel thrilled and happy for the state of Israel, for Gilad Shalit and for his family," she said. "The price that has been paid is high, but I am so happy that this painful ordeal has come to an end."

Shnaider hopes that the Israeli-Palestinian relationship could improve after this agreement between Israel and Hamas.

"I would like to quote the famous Israeli writer, Amos Oz, who said that he wishes that people made peace, not love," Naveh-Benjamin wrote in an email. "So, make peace, not war. Love will come later."

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