Formerly captive soldier Gilad Shalit feared he would be forgotten during his years in Hamas custody, but took heart in what little he had, he told Channel 10 in an interview broadcast Wednesday.
The broadcast, on the one-year anniversary of his release, was the first full interview he gave to the Israeli press since being exchanged for over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners last year.
Smiling but also looking at times nervous, the Mitzpe Hila native spoke at length about his kidnapping on June 25, 2006 and his time being held in Gaza as a bargaining chip.
Prior to his abduction Shalit said he felt completely safe in his tank. “I never thought someone could get in the tank and take me,” he said.
He also spoke about his fear that he would be forgotten as time went by. “I tried to be optimistic… to concentrate on the things I had, the small things,” he said, noting he had television, decent food, as he described it, and other small amenities during his incarceration.
Shalit stressed the importance of keeping a schedule in his day-to-day life. “The secret is to keep a framework,” he said. “I was always active,” he said, though he acknowledged not sleeping well.
He sometimes made up for lost sleep by napping during the day but would then not be tired at night, so he tried to avoid daytime sleep in order to keep as regular a schedule as possible.
He played chess and dominoes with his captors, and passed the time with other “strange games” when he was on his own.
Shalit, an avid basketball fan, said that he would play makeshift sports, throwing “balls” — which he would create out of socks and shirts — into a trash can. He also said that he would write when he could: He created various lists in order to remember things; and played a 1-player game he invented that was similar to Scattergories. Shalit drew a map of Israel, of his neighborhood and the homes in it, he said, and would “imagine places” so as not to forget them.
He said he always knew the day and date and that he could tell time in part due to Muslim calls to prayer. He also started to understand Arabic and even watched some soccer with his captors. He said that some of the guards were surprised by Israel’s level of play. “They were in shock to see an Israeli team play like that,” he said, remembering a game in which Hapoel Tel Aviv played against Lyon he watched with them. He said he spoke about sports with his guards a bit. “Sport is the international language,” he said.
Coming back to Israel and his home, Shalit said creating a routine was difficult. “Things change,” he said; friends change.
He said that his smile at the end of a video made while he was a prisoner was due to a bit of confusion. The video took a few takes and on the last one he was confused as he arrived to the word “ Mujaheddin” in the text, and that was the point at which he smiled.
Shalit would get excited when things happened outside his daily routine, such as filming or other events, but he learned with time not to get too optimistic with such occurrences.
He was informed of his impending release at the same time everyone else found out, he said. For a few days he didn’t sleep and he said that on the way to Israel he worried that perhaps something bad would happen, perhaps someone would try to harm him.
Describing the clothes he was given to wear upon his release, he had a laugh at his “famous shirt”. During his interview with an Egyptian journalist between captivity and his return to Israel, he said that he started feeling ill and that his blood pressure dropped.
He said that once released “it was a strange feeling to see the sun and sky but that they weren’t completely foreign to him. “I saw them [the sun and sky] on TV,” he said, and “with my imagination – how do blind people see?”
On his first night home, Shalit said, he fell asleep around 9 p.m. and woke up around 2 a.m.. He walked around his house, looked out the windows and noticed guards and border police there for his protection in the family’s yard.
Shown in New York City, Shalit said that he felt different in New York, that he felt more free. He enjoyed the anonymity, and the city itself, he said.
Both of his parents spoke about their son’s time in captivity. “When I ate, I wondered, did Gilad eat?” his mother said. “Did he drink? It’s with me 24 hours a day.”