Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
On Monday, a very special event took place at my campus in Tel Aviv University. CNN's anchor and correspondent, Jonathan Mann, came for a visit, in order to host a conference on the topic: "The U.S elections: why does it matter to us?" The event was covered by press worldwide, and only a bit more than a hundred people were allowed into the small hall. Ever since I heard of this conference, I knew I couldn't miss it for the world, and I feel very lucky to be one of the few who experienced it live.
The hall was decorated in red and blue, and pins saying "Democrat" or "Republican" with matching candidates' photos were handed to us as we entered. As we waited for the conference to start, two television screens presented short clips from various US electionsele news coverage. Whispers took over the silence, as many Israeli-American voters argued with their peers over who should win. As CNN's correspondent in Israel, Sara Sinder, presented Mann, the whispers stopped at once, and everybody clapped their hands with a great show of respect. After all, it's not every day we earn such an honor.
CNN and other foreign news channels are broadcast here in Israel, but they are not commonly viewed. Before Monday's event, the only idea I had about Mann was from reading his resume'. However, even while not knowing of him, there was something about him that made me feel honored to hear him speak live. Other than Mann, who hosted the conference, four respected figures from the Israeli world of politics, higher education and journalism took the parts of the panelists: Professor Yossi Shain, who other than being an educator at Tel Aviv Uni. Is also a Political science expert; Dov Weissglass, who is a practicing attorney, was responsible for the Prime Minister's contact with the White House, State Department, and other branches of the US administrations; Dr. Yossi Beilin, a statesman, a minister in the governments of Israel and a former journalist; and Dana Weiss, one of Israel's top journalists.
For an hour and a half, all four panelists had to deal with the not-so-simple mission to answer Mann's questions regarding Israel, the US and the mutual impact both countries have on one another. Mann opened the conference with the wondering of why American Jews currently living in Israel, tend to vote for a republican candidate, while American Jews living in the States tend to vote for a democrat candidate. He then mentioned the fact that during the presidential debates, so far, Israel was mentioned 30 times. The only country mentioned more times, he said, was Iran, and even that was in relation to Israel. He talked about how the US presidential candidates actually go head to head on who is a better friend and protector to Israel. Later, he asked the panel members why they believe Israelis care so much about the US elections. Weiss said that in her opinion, many Israelis want to know if Netanyahu has made the right choice by publicly supporting Romney. Beilin replied that Israelis are not just observers, and that even though we are not allowed to participate in the elections, we should. "We are going to be an impact for the results," he said. Weisglass looked at it from a different angle, and said that our dependence on the US is almost total, and that the identity of the future US president is more important to us than the identity of our own Prime Minister. Than he said that "for us, it is a vital matter who will be the next President of the United States."
Many important issues were brought to the table, along with some interesting questions from the audience. One of the topics Mann brought up was perhaps the most important one when it comes to the US- Israel relations: Will the elected President stop the Iranian threat? Weisglass said that when it comes to Iran, the sanctions are very moderate, "If the US would make all commercial interactions with Iran illegal, it would really collapse it. No under the table, over the table, under the chair." Weiss mentioned Netanyahu's saying that Obama hadn't shown true passion of stopping Iran. While addressing this statement of our Prime Minister, she said that the question that needs to be asked is weather Netanyahu is exaggerating, or Obama is really not committed to stopping Iran: "Everybody's saying all the rights words, the armies are ready to go, the sanctions are ready as well. All that's missing is the leader's passion, whoever it might be." Beilin said that the problem with Romney is the "Unknown."
When Mann asked the panelists to compare the US presidential campaigns to the Israeli election campaign, they pretty much agreed that while the Israeli campaign is not nearing the level of respect and intellectuality of the US one, our campaigns have much more action in them. Beilin said that the US campaign is way too long, and pulls away the attention of the current President from performing his role as President. He also criticized the role of the spouses in the campaign: "why would I, as a potential voter, care what the candidate's spouse has to say about him? Why would anyone vote for someone because of his wife?" Weiss addressed the US presidential debates, which are not held here. She said that it is amazing to see how the two candidates, one who is President and one who is an aspiring one, are standing in front of one another, and show absolute respect to one another. She added that as she watches the debates she couldn't believe how they both have the understanding and acceptance of the fact they both get the same amount of attention: "they patiently wait for the other to finish what he has to say, and do not interrupt each other. They both take the time to meet with the voters, and not only give interviews when it is most convenient for them. They actually care about the voters there, in the US." Weisglass then mentioned just how big the difference is: "the Americans can say a debate was full of action, while it is not even nearing our interactions between the candidates. Here they interrupt each other almost all the time, and it sometimes seem like they are about to go at it and fight each other."
Before the conference came to an end, one of the audience members asked how the panelists think the Israeli- Palestinian issue can be solved. Everyone laughed a little bit, saying this answer will take all day, but then shortly replied that the only way to achieve peace is for both sides to not only want peace, or say they do, but to act on it as well.
This was a very fruitful evening for all audience members, and I am sure also for Mann and the Panelists. I have learned many new things thanks to some fresh insights I had yet to hear. But the most important message from the conference, to me at least, is that Israel is as important to the US as the US is important to Israel (And this one goes to all Israel's haters out there, who believe Israel is nothing but a blood sucking leech for the US). You can watch a short clip from the conference here.
12.20.13 at 11:38 am | Since I live in Israel and am very passionate. . .
12.17.13 at 12:22 pm | Pro-Israeli activists waited years for the day. . .
12.17.13 at 7:30 am | BDS, the best of Hanukkah, TripAdvisor awards,. . .
12.16.13 at 11:12 am | Since winter here is rather short, and lasts a. . .
12.13.13 at 11:36 am | Since I live in Israel and am very passionate. . .
12.10.13 at 12:55 pm | What you are about to read sounds like a big. . .
12.16.13 at 11:12 am | Since winter here is rather short, and lasts a. . . (426)
12.17.13 at 12:22 pm | Pro-Israeli activists waited years for the day. . . (139)
12.17.13 at 7:30 am | BDS, the best of Hanukkah, TripAdvisor awards,. . . (54)
October 30, 2012 | 10:44 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
* After about two years of preparation, the largest exercise ever between Israeli and American forces started last Sunday. The exercise, called AC12 (“Austere Challenge 12”), is a shared exercise combining the IDF and U.S forces stationed in Europe.It is due to last three weeks, during which cutting edge technology is tested for the first time. The participants will also examine and review new Israeli developments. The exercise is part of a long-term agreement between EUCOM (the United States European Command) and the IDF that calls for cooperative exercises on an annual basis.
* Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, celebrated its 100th anniversary in Jerusalem. Nearly 2000 people from all over the world arrivedin Israel in order to pay respect to the organization, and celebrate many years of activity. At a special dinner, the organization raised nearly 18 million dollars from supporters and members. 10 million was donated by Irene Pollin, which will launch a new heart disease prevention program at Hadassah. Other significant donations were also made that night. Million dollar gifts were announced, among them two sponsorships of Chagall Windows in the Abell Synagogue at Hadassah Ein Kerem. So far, the windows named for Jacob’s sons Judah and Levy, have been sponsored. Additionally, two $300,000 gifts were announced from two sides of the Atlantic: One from Chicago and one from Paris.
* This Sunday, Israel mentioned the 17th annual Memorial Day for the murder of Prime Minister, Izhak Rabin. Rabin was shot by a Jewish, Israeli assassin who disagreed with his political agenda and ways of action. Ever since that day, November 4th, 1995, we mention this day nation-wide, while emphasizing the ideas of Democracy and respect. Rabin himself was a major figure in Israeli history. He was the commander in chief of the IDF, Minister of Defense, and twice Prime Minister. While being Prime Minister, he signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 and with Jordan in 1994. In the same year, he won a Nobel peace prize.
An Israeli pride: The World Academy of Arts, Literature and Media (WAALM) has decided to give its annual award in the pop music category to Iranian-born Israeli singer Rita for her new album, "My Joys," in which she sings in Persian. The album has been a great success since its release, and became one of the most heard albums in Iran. Since it is not allowed to listen to Israeli singers in Iran, the album was sold on the black market and was listened to quietly.
* Mikhail Baryshnikov, a legendary ballet dancer and an actor best known for his roles asNikolai 'Kolya' Rodchenko in White Nihgts, and Aleksandr Petrovsky in Sex and the City, presented Israelis with his photography skills. The actor/dancer/photographer, held a press conference Tuesday at Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in Tel-Aviv, where he launched his exhibit of photographs of dancers, titled "Dance My Way," which opens there on Wednesday. The photos presented in the exhibit were taken in the past ten years. Baryshnikov's signed dance photos will be sold to the highest bidder as the exhibition closes Saturday, and proceeds will help support young Israeli dancers.
* A new project, founded by an Israeli, invites anyone with an internet connection to take a virtual tour of Jerusalem. This project founded by Tamir Orbaum, works in a similar way to Google Street, and took two years to conclude. In an interview for Yediot Ahronot newspaper, Tamir said the idea for the project came as a result of Google Earth's imbalanced representation of Jerusalem's holy site, setting the primary focus on the Christian sites and churches. In this tour, which launched last week, you can virtually visit the various Jewish sites in Jerusalem, including the Mount of Olives, the Hebrew University and Yamin Moshe neighborhood.
October 29, 2012 | 10:30 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Yesterday, we mention the 17th annual Memorial Day for the murder of the Israeli Prime Minister, Izhak Rabin. Rabin was murdered by an Israeli, Jewish assassin, during an assembly for peace on November 4th, 1995. Moments after the end of the assembly, right after joining the massive crowd in a song calling for peace, Rabin was shot three times by Yigal Amir. Amir was one of many Israelis who did not see eye to eye with Rabin. Rabin took a very left-wing approach, and was willing to give a lot for peace with our neighbors. In 1994, he signed a peace treaty with Jordan, and won a Nobel Peace prize. A year before, he signed a peace treaty with the Palestinian organization- Ashaf. During that time, peace seemed closer than ever. The people were full of hope and put their trust in Rabin. However, at the same time there were also many people who believed his way is wrong, and accused him of bringing Israel to oblivion. The incitement against him included a comparison of Rabin to the Nazis and arranged photos of him wearing an Arabic Kaffyiah. Yigal Amir was one of those who found Rabin's ways wrong, and his solution for the disagreements he had with the Prime Minister was putting an end to his life. Everybody wept that day. People were devastated. I was only five years old, but I still have in my mind the image of my mother watching television and suddenly starting to cry. Yigal Amir was imprisoned for life, and it seemed like the slight chance for peace was buried with Rabin's body. But while some people disagreed with this statement, we all knew one thing for sure- on that day, Democracy had died.
Every year since, we mention the day of Rabin's murder nationwide. Ceremonies are held at schools, IDF bases, and in almost every city. Every year, people went on the stage and talked about Rabin and his legacy, and speeches were made about democracy, respect, and solidarity. However, in the past couple of years, a disturbing thought made its way to my mind, and it is refusing to let go- this day has lost its true meaning. At first, this day was named "The Memorial Day for the Murder of Izhak Rabin." But as the years passed, and children who did not know the man filled the schools, it slowly changed to "The Memorial Day for Izhak Rabin." I noticed the name change as I was going through my calendar. My eyes read the sentence, while my brain suddenly noticed the change. Ceremonies gradually dropped the discussion about the actual event, and dedicated more and more time to talking about Rabin, the person, the politician and the family man. Every year, children listen to speeches glorifying Rabin, calling him a "warrior of peace" and a "true hero." I see several problems with that: First of all, not everyone agreed with Rabin then. He might have brought us closer to peace, but many people still do not see him as a "hero" or as a glorified person and found his way to bring the peace- wrong. Those people are then left speechless when their child comes home from school telling them about Rabin.
Second, those kids do not care about the person as much as the children of the 1990's. They did not know him, and usually get bored while their teachers are going on and on about Rabin's many achievements. I've been to this year's ceremony in an Elementary school, and I can sadly but surely say- it was boring. It hadn't changed since I was in high school. Those kids would hear the same texts, same songs, and same speeches for 12 years of the educational system. I believe that this day can be put to a much better use, while shifting the attention back to something relevant to all people, young and old - the murder of a person, based on political disagreements.
This brings me to my third and final point: A Jew killed a Jew. An Israeli killed an Israeli. A person killed another person, just because he thought he was wrong. This is what the new generation, who did not know Rabin, must carry with them from this day. The political opinions in Israel are more varied than satellite channels, and are spread on a very large scale, from right to left. We would never be able to agree on that, but this is one of the things that make our little country so colorful and special. The one thing we can agree on is: Thou Shalt Not Murder. Each and every person has the right to express his opinion in public, and the only way to quiet him or her is only by speaking louder.
Not everyone agreed with Rabin, but everyone cried that day. We must remember and commemorate that day as the Memorial Day of the Murder of our Prime Minister, and not let the true message get lost on the way.
October 26, 2012 | 11:45 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
This weekend, I invite you to join the music of the Israeli newcommer, Tal Ramon. Tal is a 22 years old pianist and singer. He preforms live, mainly in small clubs. He performs with his original songs, both in Hebrew and in English, and combines them with new arrangements of existing songs. With each performance, and each You Tube watch, Tal gradually gathers a crowed of followers thanks to his truly remarkable talent.
Since he is yet to release an album, you can enjoy his soft voice and addictive sound with some of his live performances:
Inside Your Mind:
A Place of Your Own:
Trumpet: Noam Bar
Photo taken by Daniel vogman
Video: Adir Haruvi
October 24, 2012 | 10:30 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
Gilad Shalit is one of the most sensitive topics in the Israeli discussion. It is the one thing we all agree on, but also one of the many things we have a disagreement on. The only problem is, it is very hard to disagree on such a delicate issue.
The moment he was taken, there wasn't a single soul who didn't want him back home. Everyone agreed that a person who serves his country and is taken away should be brought back home. This is just how things work in Israel- you commit to the country when joining the IDF, and the country commits to you. The split in the opinions of the public began when the matter of the "price" was brought to the discussion table. All of a sudden, the conversation shifted from "Gilad should be brought back home" to "Gilad should be brought back home, but at what cost?" Everyone wanted him back home, but some thought there is a limit to how many prisoners with blood on their hands should be released to continue their "job" in return of one Israeli soldier. Amongst those people were families of Israelis who were murdered by those prisoners. This disagreement became harder and harder as the massive campaign for Gilad's release did not let us forget he is not "one soldier," but a person with a name, "the son of us all." Soon, it was almost impossible to disagree with a release at any cost. I, for instance, felt very uncomfortable saying, or even thinking, there is a price for him that could be too high. When I recruited, the disagreement was even harder. People felt bad thinking negative thoughts regarding his release, and those who weren't afraid to speak suffered from rough criticism by the public.
When he made his first step on Israeli soil, everything changed. The disagreement was no longer heard, and everyone came to an agreement once again: it is good to have our son back home. Everyone shed a tear that day, and since then, Gilad Shalit was untouchable. Not a single bad word, no criticism, just massive support and one big hug. The newspapers captured his every move, and followed his process of returning to a regular life. Soon, he became a celebrity. He shook hands, took pictures with "fans", and was invited to be an honorary guest in many events. Later on, he even started writing sports interpretations for one of the national papers. In one of his columns, he wrote a few sentences of his captivity, describing how sports helped him get by. But with all the joy of his homecoming, a new discussion took place: when would he talk about his captivity? Once again, the public opinion was split. Some thought we must give him space and let him do it on his own time, and some thought that if he feels comfortable enough appearing at public events and writing columns, he should take a moment and give a full interview. Once again, there was a general agreement on the "what": he is the son of us all, the public had a major part in his release, and we want to hear what he was going through while we banged on Netanyau's table. The part on which we disagreed was the timing of that interview.
When channel 10 announced there would be an interview, all eyes were on the television screen. We were all eager to hear what he has to say on what he had been through. We wanted to know everything on those five years: what was he doing, how did they treat him? What went thought his mind? Everything. I'm sure you've read the translated interview by now, so you know that as touching as it was, something was missing…It felt like the sensitivity revolving around the "Gilad Shalit" topic kicked in, and the interviewer abstained from asking many expected, yet rough questions. We wanted to know if he was tortured, if he remained at the same place or was on the move from one hiding place to another. Some of us also expected to know what he thinks of the "cost" of his release- 1027 terrorists. Once again, we were stuck, because Gilad is someone we all want to be safe, and "rough" questions might have been placing him in an uncomfortable place. However, we all were eager to hear him speak for so long, and were disappointed with the lack of complicated questions. This time, the sensitivity went a little numb. Many television critics sharpened their pencils and Facebook users roamed their keyboards. "The interview was more of a "touchy" drama than a high quality documentary," many said. But once again, the opposite voice rose: "who cares as long as he's home and well." At first, I wasn’t sure what to think, but when I translated the interview, and read every word twice, I could see what the critics were saying. The interview didn't really reveal anything new, and said what we wanted to hear. It just presented us with Gilad, a year later, telling us everything and at the same time, saying nothing.
It wasn't until I read your comments and saw your Facebook "shares" of the interview where I realized what really matters. A year later, Gilad is healthy, not as skinny, smiling, making jokes, and happy. This interview was not meant to reveal any secrets or knowing the truth about his own personal nightmare. This interview was really meant to present us with Gilad Shalit, the one for whom we all united in the effort of bringing home. At this point, I realized what I was so eager to know about him was not whether or not he believes 1027 terrorists are too much, or whether or not he celebrated any holidays. What I really wanted to know, and I'm sure everyone (including the critics) will agree with me- is if the soldier who has been through the worst has recovered from his wounds, physical and mental. I wanted to know if the son of us all can smile and mean it.
Maybe some day he will be able to tell us everything. I sure hope so. Until then, we will continue to complain and support at the same time, because that's how we, Israelis, roll. There is not a single Israeli who has no sympathy for Gilad. Even the toughest person shed a tear while watching him speak last Wednesday. But here, where we all feel so close to one another, and where everyone worked together in an effort to bring Gilad back home, we wanted to know more, and were disappointed when we didn't. Sometimes it takes a person from the outside to help those inside get perspective. I thank you for doing this for me. You didn't feel like something was missing, you were just happy that he spoke. Now, so am I.
October 22, 2012 | 10:30 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
* Israeli President, Shimon Peres, welcomed the new Egyptian and Jordanian ambassadors in Israel earlier this week. The Egyptian ambassador, Atef Salem, is the first ambassador sent by the new Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi. At his welcoming meeting with Peres, Salem announced he bears with him a message of peace, and shares great respect for Israel. The Jordanian ambassador, Walid Obeidat, was sent by Jordan after over two years of no Jordanian representation in Israel. President Peres welcomed the new ambassadors to Israel and expressed his hope for peace in the Middle East.
* The end to the not-so-great Israeli service-awareness reputation? The prestigious Vatel International Business School of Hospitality Management opened an Israeli branch last weekend. The school, originated in France, opened its Israeli branch in Tel-Aviv, and has already started operating a couple of classes. Studies in Vatel take three years, and include theoretical studies as well as training at hotels in Israel. In the course of studying, the students will learn how to perform all hotel jobs: from waitressing through reception to management roles. The alumni are expected to rank high in management jobs in Israeli hotels. The Vatel school is known for the tools it provides to a better service awareness, hospitality and management in hotels worldwide.
* Not only Israelis. New research reveals Americans also fell in love with Tel-Aviv, the non-formal Israeli capital, and one of the most beautiful and exciting cities in the world. BAV Consulting recently published its quarterly survey, presenting what people feel about various brands. According to the survey, filled out by 13,000 Americans, the brand Tel-Aviv is more attractive then Audi, or Prada, and as attractive as Twitter, Apple and You Tube. The company also checked the statuses of different countries in the public eye, and Israel was ranked 6th of 33 countries participating in the survey. Always good news.
* A first of its kind atlas of the human brain, created by a team of researchers worldwide, was unveiled last week. This atlas, detailing and mapping the microstructure of the living brain, is considered a large contribution to future research of the brain. The researchers who are behind this grand project come from 12 universities worldwide and were led by Prof. Yanic Assaf, chair of the neurobiology department at Tel Aviv University's Sagol School of Neurobiology. Within the framework of the research, the team assembled a comprehensive collection of maps characterizing the components of the living brain. Before the completion of this project (named: CONNECT), brain maps were graphed by dissecting the organ of a cadaver and subjecting it to microscopic analysis. Using an MRI to track the flow of water in the brain, a bio-physical model was constructed. The objective was to examine the movement of water molecules, as presented in 3-D images, to have a better understanding of the structure of the brain.
* If you happened to watch Homeland's season opening a couple of weeks ago, you couldn't miss Carrie and Saul walking down the streets of Beirut, Lebanon. But this "Beirut" is not what you think it is. Yes, my friends, the new star of the Emmy award winning series is no other than beautiful Yafo. The news about Homeland filming in Israel is kind of old, and the fans of the show probably already know of this little "secret". But if you take a closer look, you could see some hints revealing the true nature of city. In a few shots, Israeli traffic signs appear in the background. Hebrew letters also appear on stores and on walls, which is something I doubt you'll see in the real Beirut...It wasn't he appearing of Hebrew letters, however, that caused a commotion around the season opening. What really bothered officials in Lebanon was the presentation of Beirut as a city roaming with terrorists. Lebanon's minister of tourism, Fady Abboud, announced he is considering taking legal action and sue the Emmy award winning series.
October 20, 2012 | 11:30 am
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
The award winning 2008 film, Hakol Mathil BaYam (It all Begins at Sea), tells the story of the Goldsteins, an Israeli Family coping with various life experiences friendship, love, sex and death. These experiences all involve a longing for expanding their family, along with the realization that they are destined to remain a threesome: Father, Mother and Son.
Their bitter-sweet story is told in three parts: The first episode takes place at the seaside. The second unfolds in the Ashkelon National Park, among the ancient statues, trees, and tall stone fortifications. The third takes us into the Goldsteins new home, where they moved to prepare for the birth of their baby girl, the new upcoming addition to the family. While getting to know this special family, the viewer encounters some unique characters that surround them and take various parts in their lives. Another character in this movie is fate, which plays tricks with the Goldsteins, making them unsure of whether they are blessed or cursed.
This dramatic comedy is not of a distinct Israeli nature. It could have taken place anywhere else in the world. But still, there is something very Israeli about those characters, and about the scenery that surrounds them. I admit: I first watched it because my brother plays a part there, but later on I watched it three more times. This movie touched me in many ways, and not because it is Israeli, but because it's real.
October 18, 2012 | 1:34 pm
Posted by Noga Gur-Arieh
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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