JERUSALEM: Israeli lone soldiers – those who immigrated to Israel without their families – had the chance to meet with former abducted IDF soldier Gilad Shalit last week. The 50 young soldiers, hailing from countries across the world including the USA, Canada, Australia, Spain, Costa Rica, South Africa, France, Norway, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, are serving in various units in the Israeli army.
Shalit told the soldiers, some of whom are in the Paratrooper, Intelligence, Infantry and Communications units, that he admired them for their contribution to Israel.
“Your decision to leave your families and friends and to make aliyah on your own and join the army is truly courageous and admirable,” said Shalit during a special Nefesh B’Nefesh and Friends of the IDF program (FIDF), held in the Nefesh B’Nefesh offices in Jerusalem on Thursday, January 18.
“Although you are far from your own families, you are not alone – we are all one family and are here to support you and make you feel most welcome as Israeli citizens,” added Shalit.
Gilad Shalit was held for five years in the Gaza Strip, after he was captured by Hamas terrorists on the Gaza border in June 2006, when he was 19 years old. Shalit was released October 18, 2011. He gave his first full televised interview one year later to Israel’s Channel 10 back in October, where he detailed his life in captivity and the aftermath of his release.
“It’s difficult coming back to normal life,” Shalit related in the television documentary. “It’s difficult socially. People have changed, people have have grown up, and you feel as if you were left behind.”
Shalit explained that he always tried to remain optimistic and maintain a schedule, keeping track of the dates of the year. In order to pass the time, he would play basketball with a pair of socks and a trash can, draw maps of his town and write down lists of his favorite sports teams and people he knew. Shalit was allowed to watch sports from time to time on TV. “As a sports fan, I drew so much 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.”
During the interview, Shalit said that he didn’t celebrate any of the Jewish holidays for those five years, although he would try and guess the Hebrew dates. “I had no one to celebrate with and no way to celebrate,” he stated. Shalit was also not allowed outside and did not see any sun or sky during that time. He was able to keep track of the times of day by the sunrise and sunset, as well as by the daily Islamic call to prayer.
“I was also afraid that…the negotiations would become no longer relevant…that I’d be forgotten and there wouldn’t be anyone to talk to,” said Shalit, who Hamas agreed to release in exchange for 1,027 Palestinian prisoners, including convicted terrorists.
Following his rehabilitation period during his first year of freedom, Shalit met with then-current French President Nicholas Sarkozy and with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He has been working as a sportswriter with Yediot Ahronot, the popular Israeli newspaper and has covered the NBA finals in Miami, Spain’s El Clasico match, and Kiev’s European football championships.
Prime Minister Netanyahu described his decision to finalize the release of Shalit over a year ago as the “need to return home someone whom the State of Israel had sent to the battlefield…I always knew that if I or one of my comrades fell captive, the Government of Israel would do its utmost to return us home. As Prime Minister, I have now carried this out.”
During the Nefesh B’Nefesh/FIDF event, Shalit talked with the soldiers, played pool and table tennis, and posed for photos. He appeared to be in good spirits.