Former Hamas captive: ‘Israel gave me hope’

A decade on from his release in a Hamas prisoner swap, Gilad Shalit is leading a largely normal life. 

By Donna Rachel Edmunds, World Israel News

Nearly ten years on since his release in a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas, Gilad Shalit has spoken about his time in captivity, saying that although Hamas kept him in good condition, it was the State of Israel that gave him hope in difficult circumstances.

“A living soldier, his value is different from that of a dead soldier. It was important for them to keep me alive,” Shalit commented in a special meeting with Holocaust survivors aired on Israel’s N12 Friday night.

Shalit was kidnapped on June 25, 2006, when the tank he was serving in was ambushed on the Israeli side of the Gaza border by Hamas terrorists who had entered through a tunnel near the Kerem Shalom crossing. The tank’s commander Lt. Hanan Barak, and St.-Sgt. Pavel Slutsker were killed in the attack, and one other soldier was wounded.

He was released more than five years later, on October 18, 2011, in exchange for 1,027 Palestinians in a deal brokered by Germany and Egypt.

“I was not sick. I was very thin, even now I am thin but I was a little thinner,” Shalit said, admitting that he was afraid his health might deteriorate. “All in all, as an organization, Hamas wanted to keep me in good shape, in good physical condition,” he said.

“The State gave me the hope. The family, the friends. I can say that I had a certain pessimism. Much of the time I was in a situation of uncertainty, because it was impossible to know how it would end.”

During his captivity, he was moved by Hamas to different locations only rarely. However, it was only later in his ordeal that he became aware of the Israeli efforts to secure his release. “I was exposed to Israeli media by means of the radio,” he said, adding: “By the way, it was hard for me to hear it, because all the time it was….all the negotiations would end in disappointment, so it was very depressing to hear it.”

Reflecting on how he managed to survive the traumatic experience, he said that, in retrospect, being used to his own company helped him to cope.

“You have to be with yourself all the time, and not break down. That might be what helped me. In the past [before his kidnapping] I was not the most sociable person who was surrounded by a lot of friends and a big family. Maybe that’s what helped me.”

When asked how he managed to communicate with the men who were holding him, he explained: “Some knew Hebrew, some of the older ones worked in Israel, they knew Hebrew. They knew a bit of English. And whoever didn’t, so a bit of Arabic.”

Ten years on, Shalit has had some difficult times resulting from the experience, but overall has recovered, he said.

“As you see, my situation is good. I have passed these years relatively well. It’s true, I’m doing some therapy, but in general I have recovered, and today I am an employed person. I got married, I am living a normal, routine life.”

He added: “My time there was hard, it was long.”

Shalit’s comments come as Gerhard Conrad, a former top official with Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND), revealed that Israel missed the opportunity to secure a better deal for Shalit earlier on in the negotiating process.

Speaking to the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Conrad said that a deal for Shalit in exchange for 1,000 prisoners had been thrashed out in 2009 and was ready to go ahead, but then Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walked away. In the end, the 2011 deal included Palestinian prisoners who were not on the original list.

His comments are being seen as a warning to Israel following a new offer by Hamas for a prisoner exchange for the bodies of IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and two civilians believed to still be alive: Hisham al-Sayed and Avera Mengistu. In return, Hamas are demanding the release of all Palestinian women and children, in addition to a number of Palestinians prisoners including terrorists and the six Gilboa jail break prisoners. Israel has shown little interest in the deal so far.

On Friday, Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk told the Qatari-owned al-Araby al-Jadeed that a “fundamental development” had taken place in the prisoner exchange talks being brokered by Egypt, adding: “This issue will be ready within weeks — if the occupation [ie Israel] responds to the [Hamas] movement’s demands. The occupation is delaying, seeking to maneuver and buy time.”