Noam Shalit, father of former Hamas captive Gilad Shalit, dies at 68

Shalit passes after battling leukemia; was known for relentless, successful fight for son’s return from Hamas captivity in prisoner exchange; funeral at Mitzpe Hila on Thursday

Gilad Shalit with his father, Noam, on the day of his release from captivity (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry/Flash90)
Gilad Shalit with his father, Noam, on the day of his release from captivity (photo credit: Ariel Hermoni/ Defense Ministry/Flash90)

Noam Shalit, the father of former Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held hostage by Hamas in Gaza for five years, died Wednesday from cancer at the age of 68.

His funeral will be held at the cemetery in Mitzpe Hila, where he lived, at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday.

Shalit had been battling leukemia for over six years. Over the past few weeks his condition deteriorated and he was hospitalized at the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, the Ynet news site reported.

Shalit made headlines back in 2006 when he launched a vigorous campaign meant to pressure the political echelon to work to release his son from Hamas captivity.

Gilad Shalit had been kidnapped from inside his tank at his army base in a Hamas cross border attack in which two other soldiers were killed. He was held captive for five years in a Gaza basement, kept in isolation, barred from having visitors and seen only once, in a scripted video released by his captors to prove he was alive.

As part of the campaign, Noam Shalit organized mass protests and met with politicians, urging them to do more for his son’s release.

The campaign was successful, with Shalit freed in 2011 in a controversial exchange for over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners — marking the largest such prisoner release and the biggest price Israel has ever paid to secure the release of a soldier.

Released Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit (second right), walks with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (second left), then-defense minister Ehud Barak (left), and ex-chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz (right), at the Tel Nof air base in southern Israel, October 18, 2011. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry/Flash90)

Last year, around a decade after his son’s release from captivity, Shalit gave an interview to Channel 12, sharing some details about his health and the years following his son’s release.

“I try not to think about that period of time when Gilad was held captive, but sometimes it resurfaces,” he said at the time.

“One of the things that kept him going while in captivity was his mental strength,” he said. “As a boy and a teenager, he was always more of a ‘lone wolf,’ not one to break easily.”

After his son’s release, Shalit said in 2012 he would try to enter politics by seeking a Knesset seat with the Labor Party during the 2013 election but only made it to 39th place on the party’s list, failing to join its representatives in the Knesset.

Noam Shalit, father of Gilad Shalit who was held captive by Hamas terrorists for more than five years, speaks at a press conference where he announced his will to run for Israel’s Labor Party list, February 28, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

In his Channel 12 interview last year, Shalit admitted that trying to enter politics “was a mistake — a mistake in judgment.”

Despite failing in politics, Shalit and his persistent fight for his son’s release earned him somewhat of a public figure status. For years, he continued making public statements about current events, especially security-related ones, oftentimes advocating for a future deal with Hamas, the terror organization that kidnapped his son.

Shalit said in 2012 that “Gaza won’t disappear; Hamas won’t disappear; terror from Gaza won’t disappear; Gazans won’t disappear. Ultimately, therefore, we’ll have to talk to Hamas — directly or indirectly, whether we like it or not.”

AP contributed to this article.

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