Everyone knows the story of Gilad Shalit, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier kidnapped by Hamas in Gaza in 2006 and freed five years later. But what about his family?
The former captive’s father, Noam Shalit, told a crowd of more than 100 people on May 21 that the drawn-out ordeal made him disenchanted with the Israeli government, finding politics came before the welfare of his son. His speech was part of an Israeli American Council (IAC) event in Tarzana.
Shalit said that a turning point in the negotiation process for his son’s release arrived after the Shalit family began relying on grassroots activism to raise awareness for their cause. Still, he did praise Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for making the prisoner-exchange deal that ultimately led to the release.
Today, Shalit said, Gilad Shalit, 27, is trying to live like any other 20-something. He is studying at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya, avoids the media and has a girlfriend.
“He knows his life will never be the same, but he is reclaiming the life he lost for five years,” Shalit said at the event.
The story did not always seem like it would have a happy ending. Several prime minister-appointed hostage negotiators failed to make any progress on the case, including one that could not read a map of the Gaza Strip, where Gilad Shalit was being held captive, according to Noam Shalit. And there were many distractions — including a war with Lebanon and Netanyahu succeeding Ehud Olmert as prime minister — that slowed progress.
All the while, the Shalit family couldn’t help but remember what had happened to Ron Arad, an Israeli air force navigator who was shot down over Lebanon in 1986 and taken prisoner. According to Shalit, Arad’s family told him that the Israeli government asked them to remain quiet and let the government work toward Arad’s release.
Arad hasn’t been heard from in more than 25 years, according to media reports.
The Shalit family decided not to let that happen to their son. In 2010, they organized a much-publicized protest march including a group camped outside Netanyahu’s home, which garnered the participation of thousands of Israelis. The support of the Israeli people, Shalit said, was a big deal.
From left: On May 21, Gilad Shalit’s father, Noam Shalit (fourth from left) is joined by (from left) Israeli American Council (IAC) board member Yossi Rabinovitz, IAC chairman Shawn Evenhaim, IAC board member Danny Alpert, IAC director of community events Dikla Kadosh and IAC CEO Sagi Balasha. Photo by Ryan Torok
“The feeling that the country was behind us was overwhelming. … What started as a lonely crusade turned into a mass movement,” he said.
Shalit struck a decidedly calm and grateful tone throughout the course of the evening in Tarzana, which took place at the home of Mirit and Yossi Rabinovitz. The latter is an IAC board member.
The evening, one of many engagements Shalit is making as part of a speaking tour throughout Jewish communities in North America, consisted of a reception, a brief introductory video, remarks by the speaker and a Q-and-A moderated by Dikla Kadosh, director of community events and volunteering of the IAC. Several in the crowd were Israeli-American parents of “lone soldiers,” enlistees who come to Israel to serve in the IDF.
Woodland Hills resident Rami Ben Moshe, whose daughter, Karen, traveled to Israel and served in the army, said the incident with Gilad Shalit did not deter him from allowing his daughter to join.
“I don’t think any Israeli would not send their kid to the army because of that. It’s like asking an Israeli if they would not eat at a restaurant because of terrorist attacks. ... Of course, as parents, we always worry,” he said.
Moshe, who is Israeli, said he had attended the event because the story is “very close to all of us, all of our [Israeli] hearts.”
He added that Shalit’s occasionally anti-government tone was surprising.
“I can understand the pain. It was a very challenging situation for the government, and in the end, the results speak for themselves,” he said.
Kadosh, who organized the event, told the Journal that all Israelis feel closeness with the Shalits.
“There are very few Israelis anywhere in the world who don’t know the name Gilad Shalit,” she said, adding that she would always remember where she was on the occasion of his release.
“It’s one of those things — unfortunate things, like the JFK shooting,” she said. “People will always remember where they were when Gilad Shalit came home. For Israelis, it’s that big of a deal, absolutely.”