Former Hamas captive Gilad Shalit has been receiving rock star receptions around the world as the United Israel Appeal’s (UIA) newest fundraiser.
Filling reception halls from Buenos Aires to Melbourne, the former tank gunner, who spent five years in captivity in Gaza after being abducted in 2006, is now an effective crowd drawer, raising millions for the state by sharing his story with Jewish audiences, Channel 2 reported Tuesday.
“Despite the loneliness I felt during my captivity, I drew strength from the knowledge that Jews in Israel and around the world never forgot about me,” Shalit said in a speech before a sold out crowd in Argentina.
“It is because of the friendship and support of this community that I stand before you today. I want to thank you for keeping me in your hearts during all those long and difficult years,” he told the audience in Australia.
Shalit, who recently returned from a trip to South America, spent March and April touring Switzerland, Australia, and New Zealand, hopping from one Jewish community to another, winning over audiences and raising millions in donations. While his trips are paid for by the UIA, Shalit has declined payment and his associates said he’s doing it in gratitude for the state and the steep price it paid to ensure his release.
Shalit’s freedom in 2011 came at a heavy cost. After years of negotiations, and much public pressure to release him, Israel struck a deal with Hamas to free Shalit in exchange for 1,027 prisoners, many of them convicted terrorists responsible for killing Israelis.
Since his release, Shalit has been writing a regular sports column in Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth and getting used to life as a free man.
In September, Shalit is scheduled to fly to Canada with UIA after which he will come home and begin university studies.