A year after his return home, Gilad Shalit gave his very first full interview about his time in captivity and the emotional return home. The documentary film: Gilad Shalit- In front of the camera, was created by Tal Goren and Tamar Pross, and was aired on the Israeli Channel 10, on October 17th, 2012.
Thanks to the gracious help of Channel 10, I got the full transcript of the interview, and translated it all to English, so you can also get a hint of what the child of us all was going through for more than five years under Hamas' captivity.
*Notes in brackets made by me*
Gilad Shalit, do you remember the last time you saw your family before being captured?
Yes. I remember my mother drove me in the morning to the bus station. I saw my father the night before. I went to bed and that was the last time I saw him. It was a Thursday, three days before I was taken, and we didn't get the chance to speak during those three days. I tried calling them on Saturday, but either they missed the call or I didn't complete the call because it was noon and I didn't want to interrupt. I don't remember. Then we went to the boarder.
Were you afraid of being kidnapped?
I remember when I was on the border of Lebanon. Then I was afraid of Hezbolla because I assumed they were more trained and had more abilities. I couldn't believe that Hamas could perform an operation on such a scale and in such a perfect way. I had no idea what they were capable of. I was also inside of a tank, which is known as an immune tool, something no one can get into. This perception applied especially to me. As someone who was right inside the tank, I felt like it was protecting me. I never imagined that someone could get inside and take me. I thought I was safe.
Have you had any idea it would last for such a long time? Yes. I remember I thought at first it would last several years. I knew the negotiation process could last for years. So, yes, I had an idea of such. I said it might take a few years and with time, both sides would get "softer". After what happened to Ron Arad (Another Israeli POW who was captured in 1986. His whereabouts and physical situation is unknown), I hoped this would end differently. In his case, the negotiation has gotten irrelevant with time. There is no one to talk to and negotiate with. No one knows where he is. I was afraid the same thing would happen to me. That people would forget me and there would be no one to talk to.
Were you afraid you would be forgotten? Yes. I was afraid that my takers would make me disappear, so that no one would know where I was. At moments like this, I tried to be optimistic. Maybe, if there's even the slightest chance, than I still have a reason to keep living. To grasp the smallest good things I still had there. To try and enjoy what I have, because things can always get worse.
What are those small things?
Everything that they allowed: television, radio, proper food. Also the fact they did not abuse me so much. Stuff like that.
What did you do to keep your sanity?
The secret is to maintain a constant schedule, a daily itinerary, activities. Being active, and not lay in bed all day and do nothing. I was really trying to avoid that, but it took me some time. At first, while I was still adjusting, I had a rough time. Besides that, I was constantly active. I would get up and go to bed at the same time every day, and do the same things almost every day.
Did you get much sleep? I didn't sleep well. There were noises and things that bothered me, and I would sometimes wake up in the middle of the night. The sleep wasn't that good, but I slept. And even if I didn't I would catch up with my sleep during the day, even though I didn't like sleeping during daytime.
Because then I wasn't tired at night, and I wanted to maintain the order of my daily routine. It's very easy to do nothing and then go to sleep during the day, but you must have a pre- set routine and maintain it. Besides, I had fewer options at night, fewer things I could do. Right from the beginning I started following the days, the dates. I always knew what day it was, always knew what the date was. Soon, I also learned how to recognize the time of the day, what hour it was.
How did you recognize the hours of the day?
I tracked the sunrise and sunset, and also according to their prayer times.
So you also knew when the holidays are?
The holidays were harder to recognize because they occur on Hebrew dates, but I tried calculating them as well. I wasn't always accurate, but yes.
Did you celebrate any holidays?
No. I had no one to celebrate with and no way to celebrate.
While you were there, did you know what's going on here?
Not at first. I had almost zero exposure to what happens in Israel or in the world. At some point, they let me watch the news in Arabic on television, so I knew what was going on in the area. At some point I also got a radio, so I could hear the news in Israel.
Before that, you listened only to Arabic? Yes.
And did you understand? Not at first, but with time I began to understand a little Arabic. There was also some sort of a communication that was created with my captors. There were moments when an emotion of some sort was created, like laughter or something. There were times when we watched a sports game on television, or a movie. One time we happened to watch a soccer match between HaPoe'l Tel-Aviv and Lion. It was one of HaPoe'l's best matches. There was a famous goal by Zehavi, and I remember the guards' reactions. They were in shock with this goal, and were amazed of how good an Israeli team is. It was one of the things that helped me maintain my sanity there, I think. As a sports fan, I drew so much of my strength from it. Sport is an international language and it helped create a better atmosphere with the captors. It was something I could talk with them about. And sport is something that projects hope. Even when you're behind, you can always get out of your mess, go back out there, and win. There is always hope. During the day I would play games with my captors, games such as Chess, Dominos…And I also playwd games with myself, all types of strange games.
Sport related games, mostly. Games with a ball. I would make a ball out of socks or a shirt, and throw it to the trash can, for instance. I would make stuff up, and also write things, playing Eretz-Ir (a common game in Israel, involving a pen and paper).
Did you keep a journal? No. I had some lists, things I've done to help me remember things. I would follow sports events, or draw sketches. I would draw the map of Israel, the map of Mitzpe Hila (Shalit's home town), all of the houses. I did that so I can remember, visualize the places, stuff like that. I started doing that at the beginning, so that if I forget something, it won't be it.
Did you hang your sketches on the wall? No, no. I would hide it sometimes. Some of them didn't like it, they thought I was collecting information.
Do you remember the day they filmed your tape that was sent to Israel? Yes. There were an audio tape and a video tape. There were also more stuff they filmed, but didn't send them to Israel. On the day of the video tape, a group of people I haven't seen in a long time arrived. They wrote what I needed to say, and asked me to add a personal story, so that my family would be able to recognize me. A story only I can tell.
Did you want to add a little something of your own while filming? Have you thought about it?
No. I knew they would double-check everything I say, and I was also very nervous.
Have you thought the whole thing would come to an end while they made those tapes? That your release is near?
Yes, at first. But later I started to get used to being filmed and that it was yet another procedure. I knew it might make my release closer, but I also knew it didn't help before. I knew that most probably nothing would happen.
How did you handle the disappointment?
It's rough. There were times when there was optimism, but then it faded. With time, you learn how to deal with it, how to recover. With time, I learned not to get easily optimistic every time something happens, every time the media reports on a progress or a nearing release deal or any other false reports over the years.
How were you informed on your release?
I found out the same time with everyone else, when it was reported over the media a week before the release.
Did you cry?
No. After being burned before, I said that you can never know what might go wrong along the way.
Did the time passed from the announcement on your release and the moment you went out seem to last forever? That week felt like forever. It passed very slowly. In the last couple of days I didn't sleep. I don't remember me sleeping. Maybe one hour-tops.
What happened on the day of your release? They brought me shoes. White Puma shoes. A pair of jeans. The first pair they brought me wasn't my size, so they had to bring me something smaller. Same goes for the belt, they had to punch more holes in it to make it smaller. They also brought me the famous shirt, the non-trendy shirt, whatever you call it. If I would tell them it was ugly, I guess they would have brought me something else to wear. But I really didn't care what I was going to wear on the day of my return. It was the last thing on my mind.
What was on your mind the minute you got out? It was a strange feeling, being outside, looking up to the sky, seeing the sun. It wasn't too hard for me, even though people were asking why I was wearing sunglasses.
It's quite unbelievable not seeing the sky for five almost and a half years, isn't it?
Yes, it is. Though I have seen the sky on television, and you can also use your imagination.
What did you feel at that time?
During the drive to Gaza's border, I was nervous. I didn't know if something would happen, if someone would try and hurt us, or if something would go wrong the last minute. The second I went out of the car and moved to Egypt, I felt relieved. Suddenly, I saw dozens of people in front of me, maybe hundreds, after not seeing more than a few people at a time during all those years. There was such a fuss there, and I was a bit in shock. Then we entered a room, I was recognized and then was the interview (with an Egyptian journalist. This interview got many negative reviews and the reporter was accused of being insensitive.)
What was in that interview? Did the reporter hug you when she saw you?
No. She shook my hand. She was the first woman I saw after more than five years.
What was it like? Seeing a woman, hearing her voice?
Her? Of all women? I'm joking…It felt different, but wasn't such a shock for me as I thought it would be. However, my blood pressure was low, and I started to feel bad. You can also see it during the interview.
And when you arrived to Israel?
This was the moment when I felt this was it. That this entire experience is coming to an end. This pit I was locked up in- that's it, I'm out. I was relieved and realized that something huge is revolving around me. Everything that happened there, the media coverage, the enthusiasm…I knew it would take me some time to recover from it. I couldn't just go outside right away and meet everybody. I needed some time, taking it slow. I was thrilled and happy. But on the other hand, couldn't contain everything, all the people, the enthusiasm. I was also shut down. I didn't talk much. What I'm saying to you now, this conversation, is more than everything I said in those five years.
Yes. The amount of words I am saying now is just about what I was saying in a year.
How did it feel to sleep in your own bed for the first time? Did you sleep well on your first night?
Yes. I was really tired, so I slept well. I went to sleep at around nine-nine thirty. But at 2AM I woke up and started walking around the house. I was wandering around, looking through the windows. I saw guards, IDF soldiers, walking around.
Was your house like you remembered?
No. It was different, because it was renovated. So I just peeked in some places, looked around. The house was packed with food, presents. There were so many things I wanted to do that day, like using the computer, surfing the web, walking outside, riding a bike- this was one of the first things I did. I also wanted to catch up with my friends, and with everything I missed on television.
What was changed about you while being held captive?
I think that what is changed is the way people treat me, like I am someone else. Of course, there are things I took from that time which made me stronger and more confident. It is also a process. It takes time. With time, I'm adjusting, getting to know more people. At first, I was all about thinking, remembering and reminiscing, processing everything. I was also questioned and met with a shrink. Now I am less occupied with thoughts.
Do you feel good now?
I definitely feel better after everything I've been through the last five years. How can I not feel good? I always try to be optimistic, even when I run into some sort of a problem. All problems are nothing compared to what I've been thought…
Will you send your children to the army?
It won't be easy, but the bottom line is the state released me. The deal was made and the state paid the price, so I have no doubt my children would recruit. I hope that until then, recruitment won't be a necessity, but I believe it would be.
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