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Shcharansky Comes Home

February 12, 1986
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Anatoly Shcharansky happily reunited with his wife Avital after 12 years of separation while he was in Soviet prisons and labor camps, stepped on Israel soil at Ben Gurion Airport Tuesday evening to a jubilant and joyfully tearful welcome.

Premier Shimon Peres, who warmly embraced the Soviet Jewish dissident and aliya activist on his repatriation to Israel, his chosen homeland, declared: “It is a moving moment for the whole of the Jewish people, may I say for everybody in the world who loves freedom and who hopes that freedom will prevail.”

Shcharansky flew to Israel from Frankfurt, West Germany in the same private executive jet that took his wife to Frankfurt earlier Tuesday for their reunion. He was freed Tuesday for their reunion. He was freed Tuesday morning in West Berlin as part of an East-West prisoner exchange.

The throngs that came to greet him, many in chartered buses from all parts of Israel, remained behind barriers during the official ceremonies. Shcharansky was embraced by Peres, by Foreign Minister and Deputy Premier Yitzhak Shamir, Absorption Minister Yaacov Tsur, other dignitaries and rabbis who had helped and befriended Avital Shcharansky in her long struggle to gain her husband’s freedom.


Peres gave his welcoming speech, first in Hebrew, then in English in the airport’s VIP lounge. “It is a very unique moment in the experiences and feelings of our people,” he said.

“I do believe that the hearts of all Jewish people beat today as though it were the very same heart. Anatoly Shcharansky, who has already adopted the Hebrew name, Nathan, has fought heroically alone, under tremendous pressure, against so many difficult odds as a proud Jew, as a freedom-loving person, as a man with a mission, as a devoted Zionist, and taught that you can arrest a body, you cannot imprison a spirit. Faith prevails even against the strongest of governments, and against the most difficult circumstances. “The Premier also praised Avital who, he said, “fought like a lioness” for her husband’s freedom.

Greetings were also extended by Shamir. Shcharansky responded in fluent but hesitant Hebrew, a language he had taught himself. He spoke briefly of his difficult years in prison, buoyed by the hope that one day he would reach Israel. The 38-year-old dissident arrived and remained bare-headed throughout the proceedings. His wife’s head was covered by a scarf which is traditional among Orthodox Jewish women.

The couple was driven from the airport directly to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. From there they were taken to the home provided for them by the Immigration Ministry.

Irwin Cotler, the Canadian lawyer and law professor at McGill University who defended Shcharansky at his trial, arrived in Israel Tuesday to join the welcoming party for the freed activist. He told reporters that the timing of Shcharansky’s release seemed significant. He said the Jewish dissident had become a burden to the Soviets and they were looking for a “fig leaf” to cover their embarrassment.

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